A new report by environmental groups says some North Carolina coal ash sites are contaminating groundwater. Researchers hope state regulators will consider the information as they decide on closure plans for remaining ash basins.
The Environmental Integrity Project and Earthjustice conducted the study. They examined the records of 265 power plants across the country. The information became available to the public last year because of federal coal ash regulations that require companies to disclose it.
Researchers say the data shows that most of the sites are leaking arsenic, lead and other toxic metals into groundwater.
The report also ranks what it calls the 10 worst pollution sites nationally. Among the list: Duke Energy's Allen Steam Station in Belmont.
“In North Carolina there are 13 coal plants that are covered by the coal ash rule and have reported their ground water data, so 13 plants that we looked at, and all 13 of them have unsafe levels of coal ash pollutants in the ground water,” says Abel Russ an attorney with the Environmental Integrity Project. “Nationally, it's 91 percent. In North Carolina, it's 100 percent.”
Russ says he doesn't know the extent to which nearby drinking water supplies have been impacted by coal ash contamination. The data in this report doesn't prove that. He says he worries about older coal ash sites, where there's limited data. Some of them were given exemptions or closed before the federal coal ash rule took effect.
“There are hundreds of ash landfills and ponds across the country that aren't regulated. The owners don't have to tell us anything about them, where they are, that even exist, how much coal ash they have in them," he says.
Duke Energy spokesperson Bill Norton says the study is misleading and that pollution from leaking pits is staying on their property and not affecting local drinking water or recreational water supplies.
“This is old data that environmentalists have tried to repackage to create a new news cycle, and they're trying to advance a misleading narrative that pushes excavation of ash as the only solution when the science is really clear that capping and excavation are both equally safe for neighbors and the environment.”
Norton adds, “The situation at Allen is the same as the situation at our other sites where we have issues in the groundwater within our property not affecting drinking water supplies or recreational water supplies. That's determined by hundreds of monitoring wells that we have encircling the basin that show exactly where the water is going.”
The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality is still reviewing the company's closure plans for six remaining sites.
State law known as the Coal Ash Management Act requires Duke Energy to close all of its ash basins by 2029.
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