State News

Residents near Duke ash dumps told not to drink well water

Posted April 21, 2015

— North Carolina officials are advising dozens of residents near Duke Energy coal ash dumps not to drink or cook with water from their wells after tests showed contamination with toxic heavy metals.

The state Department of Environment and Natural Resources said Tuesday that tests of 87 private wells near eight Duke plants showed results that failed to meet state groundwater standards.

A state law passed after last year's massive spill into the Dan River required wells within 1,000 feet of Duke's 32 coal ash dumps across the state to be tested. About 145 private wells have been sampled since October.

Wayne Winstead's well was sampled in February. He didn't hear back from state officials until he received a letter from DENR detailing procedures for purifying his well water.

"I would like to know what we're drinking," he said. "It might be a lot of people getting sick of this, don't know what it is."

The letter Winstead received indicated traces of iron, lead, magnesium and arsenic were found in his well water.

Winstead has started using bottled water until he receives a satisfactory answer about the safety of his well water.

"I want to jump on it now and find out if this is doing any harm to us," he said. "You don't wait until the last minute. Then it will be too late."

Tom Reeder, the assistant secretary overseeing water quality for the state, said Duke will be required to provide the affected residents with an alternative water supply if it is determined the company's coal ash is the source of the groundwater contamination.

State officials said that, while some state groundwater standards were exceeded, in nearly all of the cases, the well water would still meet federal Safe Drinking Water Act requirements for municipal water supplies.

The agency's first public acknowledgement of the troubling test results came after The Associated Press reported earlier on Tuesday that 19 homeowners and a church near Duke's Buck Steam Station outside Salisbury had received written warnings.

Several of the letters cited high levels of vanadium, a naturally occurring element found in oil and coal classified as hazardous by federal health officials. Duke's self-reported toxic release inventory from 2011 shows about 1.5 million pounds of vanadium released into the environment from Duke's coal-fired plants that year, with the bulk of it flowing into the company's ash pits.

According to documents obtained by AP, test results from private drinking-water wells near the plant showed readings for vanadium as high as 86 times the state groundwater standard.

Duke also received a letter from the state citing elevated levels of antimony and manganese in water collected from a drinking well that serves the Buck plant. Both are found in coal ash.

In addition to Buck, the state said it had test results from private wells that failed to meet groundwater standards near Duke's Allen, Asheville, Belews Creek, Cliffside, Marshall, Roxboro and Sutton facilities. Wells near coal ash sites in Moncure and Goldsboro haven't been tested.

Duke spokeswoman Erin Culbert said the chemicals found in the private well near the company's ash dumps could also be naturally present in local soils.

"Based on the state's test results we've reviewed thus far, we have no indication that Duke Energy plant operations have influenced neighbors' well water," Culbert said.

The nation's largest electricity company, Duke stores more than 150 million tons of coal ash in 32 dumps at 14 power plants in North Carolina.

In February, federal prosecutors charged Duke with nine criminal counts over years of illegal pollution leaking from ash dumps at five of the plants. The company has said it intends to plead guilty to the charges and pay $102 million in fines and restitution.

A separate state law passed in the wake of the Dan River spill requires the company to move or cap all of its dumps by 2029.

The company has three open-air pits at Buck that cover 134 acres and contain more than 5 million tons of coal ash. The ash is a byproduct of burning coal to generate electricity. It contains numerous toxic heavy metals, including mercury, lead and arsenic.

Many residents living near the plant in the close-knit rural community of Dukeville have long been concerned that Duke's coal ash might be making them sick.

AP reported in June that testing of residential wells conducted by an environmental group found readings for potentially toxic chemicals associated with coal ash at levels exceeding state groundwater standards.

Though similar readings were self-reported from Duke's own monitoring wells ringing its dumps, both the company and state health officials said last year that there was no evidence the chemicals were coming from the coal ash pits.

“Duke continues to be dangerously in denial that these sites have deprived its neighbors of safe water," Catawba Riverkeeper Sam Perkins said. "We know the solution to this problem, and it is to move the material away from water and wells and to a lined, monitored site.”

John Suttles, a senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center, said the latest test results confirm what environmental groups suing Duke over its pollution have been saying in court for years.

"Duke's coal ash pits are leaking toxic pollutants into groundwater," Suttles said. "To protect these residents Duke should provide safe, clean drinking water. This news underscores the critical importance of removing coal ash from leaking, unlined pits to dry, lined storage away from our waterways and drinking water sources."


Please with your account to comment on this story. You also will need a Facebook account to comment.

Oldest First
View all
  • Terica Luxton May 17, 2015
    user avatar

    Coal ash will be hauled on trains Right BESIDE this and many other daycares ,elderly care and schools around NC while DukeE and Charah dump coal ash on Lee and Chatham counties using a LLC to do so ...
    WE THE PEOPLE do not have to stand for this and DO NOT BELIEVE they are too big to take to court !
    Please consider supporting our cause if you can .
    Let's fight Dirty Duke together .

  • Scott Mace Apr 22, 2015
    user avatar

    View quoted thread

    That might make a tiny bit of sense, if Duke offered the consumer "power that was generated by methods that will pollute the nearby water table and rivers". But they didn't. They only offered to sell power, period.

    Ever buy anything made by DuPont ? Ever eat any food grown that was protected by DuPont pesticides? Probably so... and so, by your logic, you're partially responsible for the Bhopal disaster.

  • Sammy Macloud Apr 22, 2015
    user avatar

    View quoted thread

    They were just HOPING we are all gullible enough to believe them......

    Now DE needs to be supplying ALL of these well owners with usable water-delivered to their houses-as much as they need.

  • Quid Malmborg Apr 21, 2015
    user avatar

    View quoted thread

    Ever hear of the term "greenwashing?" It's the PR smokescreen that corporations use to make themselves look environmentally responsible while deflecting attention away from the fact that they're anything but. The Duke commercial that you mentioned is a perfect example.

  • Tom Haywood Apr 21, 2015
    user avatar

    Gee, what happened to that attitude from Duke in the commercials where they said basically "Hey we live here, too, and we're going to do the right thing." I guess that lasted only until doing the right thing might be costly.

    I know for a fact from a previous employee that Progress Energy was told more than 10 years ago that they REALLY needed to do something about the ash pits ... and they ignored my friend. Hmmmmm ... doesn't sound like the "right thing" to me.

  • Sammy Macloud Apr 21, 2015
    user avatar

    View quoted thread

    THAT they did! And as expected WE get to pay for it.

  • Betsey Duggins Apr 21, 2015
    user avatar

    Also, how about testing wells around these nuclear plants for radiologoal levels. People need to be more informed about what you are consuming. Contact the State in Raleigh and demand testing!

  • Quid Malmborg Apr 21, 2015
    user avatar

    View quoted thread

    So by your logic the folks who have had their water wells contaminated should stop using electricity from Duke as this will give them the only justification to seek retribution from Duke? Sorry, doesn't work that way. Duke are the responsible party in this case and are required by law to compensate the victims.

    "Duke is only giving us what we want."

    Contaminated drinking water? Right...

  • Russ Bullock Apr 21, 2015
    user avatar

    Millions of tons of toxic waste lying in ponds for decades, and local wells are now contaminated? Who would have guessed?

    And as for us not blaming Duke for selling us what we want, how does that argument work when the local drug pusher simply gives people what they want?

  • Christopher Rose Apr 21, 2015
    user avatar

    And so should we Jeff as we keep buying the electricity and using it that was made with coal. Duke is only giving us what we want.