Press Release | June 6, 2013

Southern Environmental Law Center Moves to stop Duke Energy’s Coal Ash Pollution of Mountain Island

The Southern Environmental Law Center, representing the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation, today filed a motion to intervene in the pending Mecklenburg County proceeding to stop Duke Energy’s coal ash pollution of Mountain Island Lake near Charlotte.   Mountain Island Lake is the source of drinking water for over 750,000 people in the greater Charlotte area.  Duke Energy has discharged toxic metals and other harmful substances from coal ash in unlined lagoons into Mountain Island Lake, the Catawba River, and groundwater at its Riverbend facility for years, in violation of its water pollution elimination permit and state and federal laws.

In March, The Southern Environmental Law Center gave the N.C. Department of the Environment and Natural Resources and Duke Energy a 60-day notice of its intent to bring suit on behalf of the Catawba Riverkeeper because of illegal coal ash pollution from Duke Energy’s coal ash lagoons at its Riverbend facility on the banks of Mountain Island Lake in Gaston County.  North Carolina responded by bringing suit on May 24 against Duke Energy in Mecklenburg County state court setting out violations of environmental laws by Duke Energy.

By moving to intervene, the Southern Environmental Law Center and the Catawba Riverkeeper seek to participate in the litigation to ensure that Mountain Island Lake, the Catawba River, and the people who drink water from Mountain Island Lake receive the full protection of the law from Duke Energy’s illegal pollution.

“Duke CEO Jim Roger has publicly promised that Duke Energy ‘will ultimately end up cleaning up’ the coal ash at Riverbend, and we want to hold him to his word,” said Frank Holleman, Senior Attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center.  “The Catawba River and local citizens must have a seat at the table to ensure that the Lake is cleaned up and the drinking water reservoir is protected.”

North Carolina’s suit is filed under oath and states that Duke Energy’s “unpermitted seeps” at Mountain Island Lake violate North Carolina law and that Duke Energy’s pollution at Mountain Island Lake “poses a serious danger to the health, safety, and welfare of the people of North Carolina and serious harm to the water resources of the state.”

Only a leaking 80-foot tall earthen berm on a peninsula into the lake separates millions of tons of coal ash in unlined lagoons from the drinking water reservoir. The berm is leaking numerous streams of contaminated water into the lake.  In fact, Duke Energy even constructed channels to illegally assist some contaminated flows into the drinking water reservoir.

“After watching the illegal pollution for years and taking no action, North Carolina authorities sued Duke Energy only after we notified the State and Duke Energy that we would file suit,” said Rick Gaskins, Executive Director of the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation.  “The people who depend upon Mountain Island Lake for their drinking water will be protected only if the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation, an independent citizens group, is present in Court to ensure that the laws are enforced and that the drinking water reservoir is fully protected.”

Monitoring data show Riverbend’s unlined lagoons have contaminated the groundwater at the site and flowing into Mountain Island Lake for years.  The pollution includes arsenic, cobalt, boron, barium, strontium, manganese, zinc, and iron. Testing by the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation indicates that Duke Energy 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.

Frank Holleman added:  “At its Cliffside facility in Rutherford County, Duke Energy now stores coal ash in a dry state in double lined landfills.   The people of the Charlotte area and their drinking water reservoir deserve no less.”

The substances discharged by Duke Energy into Mountain Island Lake are known harmful pollutants.  Arsenic is a known carcinogen that causes multiple forms of cancer in humans.  The International Agency for Research on Cancer has determined that cobalt is possibly carcinogenic to humans.  Manganese is known to be toxic to the nervous system and 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 give rise to interactions and synergies that create new effects.

A similar lawsuit by the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation and SELC against South Carolina utility SCE&G for coal ash pollution in the Catawba/Wateree watershed 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.  “We believe the Catawba River should receive the same treatment from Duke Energy in North Carolina as the Catawba/Wateree River is receiving from SCE&G in South Carolina,” Gaskins added.

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