Press Release | May 30, 2019

More Pollution by More Toxic Substances Found at Duke Energy Coal Ash Sites

CHAPEL HILL, N.C.–More toxic substances are polluting the water at Duke Energy coal ash sites across North Carolina, according to public reports by the company required under a federal law.  At three sites where Duke Energy wants to leave coal ash sitting in groundwater next to lakes, rivers, and drinking water reservoirs, Duke Energy recently posted 2019 reports that, for the first time, disclose it is exceeding federal groundwater protection standards for the following toxic pollutants at its coal ash lagoons:  mercury at Belews Creek in Stokes County; barium at Marshall on Lake Norman; and lithium, radium 226, and radium 228 at Roxboro in Person County.

Duke Energy wants to leave coal ash in unlined pits at six sites in North Carolina, and previously in 2018, Duke Energy admitted that these sites are polluting North Carolina’s waters with a long list of toxic substances:  arsenic, beryllium, cadmium, cobalt, lithium, and thallium at Allen on Lake Wylie; arsenic, beryllium, cobalt, lithium, and radium 226 and 228 at Belews Creek; arsenic, beryllium, cobalt, lithium, thallium, and radium 226 and 228 at Marshall; arsenic, beryllium, cobalt, thallium, and radium 226 and 228 at Cliffside (Rogers) on the Broad River in Mooresboro; and arsenic, cobalt, lithium, molybdenum, and selenium at Roxboro.

“Duke Energy’s coal ash is injecting a witch’s brew of toxic pollutants into North Carolina’s waters, and now Duke Energy admits that the nasty flow is even worse than previously reported,” said Frank Holleman, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center.  “Duke Energy needs to stop fighting North Carolina’s people and North Carolina’s government and start moving its toxic coal ash from these unlined, polluting pits to dry, lined storage out of our groundwater and away from our drinking water supplies.”

Last week, Duke Energy was forced by the federal Coal Combustion Residuals Rule to post on its website 2019 updates of additional toxic substances polluting water at its coal ash sites in North Carolina.  In April, after years of study and scientific evaluation, North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality ordered Duke Energy to remove the coal ash from unlined pits at the remaining six sites in North Carolina where Duke Energy has tried to leave coal ash in leaking, unlined pits.  Instead of moving forward with the removal of this toxic coal ash, Duke Energy is litigating against North Carolina and its residents to delay or avoid removal of its coal ash from unlined pits on Lakes Norman and Wylie, on the Broad River, and in Stokes and Person Counties. The Southern Environmental Law Center represents the following groups in motions to intervene filed in that litigation: Appalachian Voices, Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation, MountainTrue, Roanoke River Basin Association, Sierra Club, the Stokes County Branch of the NAACP, and Waterkeeper Alliance.

In contrast to Duke Energy in North Carolina, all of South Carolina’s utilities are removing all of their coal ash from unlined, waterfront pits.  Earlier this year, Virginia enacted legislation requiring Dominion to excavate all its unlined coal ash pits, and Dominion accepted that decision.  By court orders, settlement agreement, and its criminal plea agreement, Duke Energy is required to excavate all of its coal ash from eight sites in North Carolina, but it is litigating to leave its coal ash in leaking, unlined pits in six North Carolina communities.

In 2015, Duke Energy’s operating companies in North Carolina pleaded guilty 18 times to nine coal ash crimes committed across the state, paid fines of over $100 million, and remain on nationwide criminal probation.

Duke Energy conceded that it is also polluting the water at its Weatherspoon facility on the Lumbee River with cobalt.  Duke Energy is required by court order to excavate the coal ash from its unlined pit at Weatherspoon, but it has not completed that work. 


Note to editors: The new filings can be found on Duke Energy’s required CCR Compliance website, at;;; ; and

For more than 30 years, the Southern Environmental Law Center has used the power of the law to champion the environment of the Southeast. With over 70 attorneys and nine offices across the region, SELC is widely recognized as the Southeast’s foremost environmental organization and regional leader. SELC works on a full range of environmental issues to protect our natural resources and the health and well-being of all the people in our region.

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