Press Release | March 26, 2013

Southern Environmental Law Center and Catawba Riverkeeper Give Notice of Suit to Stop Duke’s Pollution of Charlotte’s Drinking Water Reservoir

The Southern Environmental Law Center has sent a notice to Duke Energy Carolinas LLC that it will bring suit under the Clean Water Act to stop Duke’s coal ash pollution of Mountain Island Lake, the source of drinking water for hundreds of thousands of people in the greater Charlotte area.  SELC is representing the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation, which monitors the site and has brought the pollution to Duke’s attention. To date, Duke has taken no action to stop the pollution.

Duke operates the Riverbend facility, a coal-fired power plant, on Mountain Island Lake on the Catawba River in Gaston County, near Charlotte. The Duke facility includes two unlined coal ash lagoons containing millions of tons of coal ash, and they stick out into Mountain Island Lake. The millions of tons of coal ash are separated from the drinking water reservoir only by an 80-foot tall earthen berm, which is leaking.

Duke is illegally discharging polluted water into the lake. The coal ash contains toxic substances, the coal ash lagoons are unlined, and they leak from many places into Mountain Island Lake. As well, these unlined lagoons have contaminated the groundwater at the site, which also flows into Mountain Island Lake. The pollution includes arsenic, cobalt, boron, barium, strontium, manganese, zinc, and iron.

Duke has announced plans to close its Riverbend facility, but has plans to leave the coal ash next to Mountain Island Lake forever.

Frank Holleman, Senior Attorney at SELC, stated:  “Duke should not be storing toxic coal ash in unlined lagoons beside Charlotte’s drinking water reservoir.  If there was ever a place where it is irresponsible to store coal ash, this is it.  Duke should remove its toxic ash to a lined landfill away from drinking water and remove pollutants from the groundwater.”

The notice was also sent to the North Carolina Department of the Environment and Natural Resources and to the United States Environmental Protection Agency.  If Duke does not take appropriate action to stop its pollution within 60 days, SELC and the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation will file suit in federal court to stop the pollution.

Rick Gaskins, the Catawba Riverkeeper, stated:  “The Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation is committed to protect the Catawba River and the drinking water of the Charlotte area.  It is long past time that Duke moved its coal ash away from Mountain Island Lake and stopped discharging toxic substances into Charlotte’s drinking water reservoir.”

Last week, NC DENR determined that Progress Energy, Duke’s sister company, is violating state and federal law because of illegal discharges from coal ash lagoons at its Skyland facility near Asheville.  NC DENR made those findings in response to a notice sent to Progress by the Southern Environmental Law Center, also under the Clean Water Act.

Frank Holleman stated:  “Duke has wrongly been telling the community that it is complying with the environmental laws.  In fact, Duke is violating state and federal law by polluting the reservoir from which Charlotte gets its drinking water.  It is time that Duke told the Charlotte area the truth and cleaned up the toxic mess it has made on the banks of Mountain Island Lake.”

Testing by the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation indicates that Duke is discharging arsenic into Mountain Island Lake in concentrations at least twice the applicable standard, cobalt at 52 times the standard, manganese at 128 times the standard, and iron at 27 times the standard.   The substances discharged by Duke into Mountain Island Lake are well known pollutants.  Arsenic is a known carcinogen that causes multiple forms of cancer in humans.  The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has determined that cobalt is possibly carcinogenic to humans.  Manganese is known to be toxic to the nervous system.  Manganese concentrations greater than 50 ug/L render water unusable by discoloring the water, giving it a metallic taste, and causing black staining. Iron can render water unusable by imparting a rusty color and a metallic taste and causing sedimentation and staining.  Oral exposure to boron has led to developmental and reproductive toxicity in multiple species. Barium can cause gastrointestinal disturbances and muscular weakness. Concurrent exposure to multiple contaminants may intensify existing effects of individual contaminants, or may give rise to interactions and synergies that create new effects.

A similar suit by the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation and SELC against South Carolina utility SCE&G was settled last year when the utility agreed to move all 2.4 million tons of coal ash from its unlined Wateree Station lagoons to a lined landfill.

About the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation
The Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation is a nonprofit organization with members in South and North Carolina that works to protect and restore the Catawba/Wateree River and its watershed.

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Press Contacts

Frank Holleman

Senior Attorney with a focus on litigation

Phone: 919-967-1450