Under Pressure Duke Energy Withdraws Requests to Add Cancer-causing Pollution
Chapel Hill, N.C.—After the Southern Environmental Law Center, on behalf of the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation and Clean Air Carolina, filed suit challenging Duke Energy’s requested permit to put more cancer-causing bromide pollution in North Carolina’s rivers and drinking water supplies, Duke Energy withdrew its requests in letters to the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality dated June 12, 2017. Multiple North Carolina communities downstream of Duke Energy’s coal ash sites have reported spikes in carcinogens–substances that can cause cancer in people–in their treated drinking water and traced the cause back to Duke Energy’s bromide pollution from its unlined, leaking coal ash pits.
“Duke’s withdrawal of its request for more bromide pollution under legal pressure and public scrutiny is a big victory for everyone who relies on clean drinking water downstream,” said Myra Blake, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center which represents the conservation groups. “But downstream communities still face the threat of Duke Energy’s ongoing, illegal leaks flowing from its unlined coal ash pits that carry high levels of bromide and other pollutants into our drinking water sources. The only proven way to stop this contamination is to remove the coal ash to dry, lined storage or recycle it.”
In sworn testimony included in the pending lawsuit, Duke Energy admitted that its use of bromide at Marshall in the recent years caused cancer-causing trihalomethanes to form in Charlotte’s drinking water. Duke Energy agreed under oath that the draft permit for Allen raised concerns about increased bromide discharges and concentrations downstream. The relationship between Duke Energy’s bromide pollution and spikes in carcinogenic trihalomethanes in treated drinking water is documented in the Joint Factual Statement agreed by the United States government and the company as part of Duke Energy’s criminal plea deal for nine Clean Water Act crimes at five of its sites across North Carolina.
In its letters after the lawsuit was filed, Duke Energy reversed course and asked to withdraw its request to add halide salts, also known as bromides, from pending state permits and permits issued for its facilities: Belews Creek on the Dan River upstream of Eden and Madison, Cliffside on the Broad River upstream of Shelby, Marshall on Lake Norman upstream of Charlotte, Roxboro and Mayo in the Roanoke River watershed upstream of Virginia and North Carolina communities, and Allen on the Catawba River and Lake Wylie upstream of Rock Hill, S.C. Duke Energy has identified many other downstream drinking water supplies—serving millions of people—that are at-risk for bromide contamination from these plants. When bromide comes into contact with downstream chlorine-based water treatment systems, it forms cancer-causing trihalomethanes in treated drinking water that families and communities in North Carolina and neighboring states are drinking.
“Less bromide pollution from Duke Energy’s coal sites into our drinking water sources means less cancer risk to us and our families from our treated drinking water in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia” said Sam Perkins, Catawba Riverkeeper. “It’s astonishing that Duke Energy was attempting to use more bromide at its coal plants, even after it knew that these substances cause carcinogens to form in the water that so many people rely on. Bromides have already been an unduly burden on our water treatment plants and municipalities. Yet, Duke sought to make this burden permissible.”
Water officials for downstream water systems for the towns of Eden, N.C., and Madison, N.C., traced spikes in carcinogens in their treated drinking water back to Duke Energy’s leaking, unlined coal ash pit at Belews Creek on the Dan River. Other communities downstream of Duke Energy’s leaking coal ash pits at Allen, Cliffside, Marshall, Mayo and Roxboro have reported spikes in carcinogenic THMs in the treated water that people are drinking, including Charlotte and other drinking water intakes used by well over a million people.
“It is incredible how extensive the impact of Duke Energy’s coal plants is on our communities and the air and water that we rely on. We cannot allow the addition of more poisonous chemicals by Duke Energy, like bromides, into the process,” said June Blotnick, executive director of Clean Air Carolina. “We all live downstream or downwind of these types of facilities and we must be diligent in preventing any more harm to come. The importance of public input, permitting review and enforcement are evident yet again.”
The Safe Drinking Water Act sets a federal limit for total trihalomethanes to protect water quality under the Safe Drinking Water Act. Two types of trihalomethanes are so toxic that the Environmental Protection Agency has set a public health goal of zero, meaning that people should not be exposed to any level of these pollutants.
Although Duke Energy has withdrawn its requests for this additional source of bromide pollution, it continues to discharge bromide from its existing unlined coal ash pits and illegal seeps leaking from those pits.
About the Southern Environmental Law Center
The Southern Environmental Law Center is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. With nine offices across the region (Charlottesville, VA; Chapel Hill, NC; Atlanta, GA; Charleston, SC; Washington, DC; Birmingham, AL; Nashville, TN; Asheville, NC; and Richmond, VA), 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 the South’s natural resources and the health and well-being of all the people in our region. www.SouthernEnvironment.org