Under the Dome

Coal ash neighbors form coalition

UPDATED People who live near stored coal ash have formed a statewide coalition to represent their health concerns, they announced on Wednesday.

The Alliance of Carolinians Together Against Coal Ash held a news conference and rally at the state legislative building. Members are pushing for the governor, state environmental regulators and Duke Energy to do more to ensure safety.

"We are demanding our water, our environment, the safety of our citizens be put ahead of corporate greed," said Bobby Jones of Goldsboro, a retired state health agency employee.

The group formed in July at a meeting in Belews Creek, where one of the coal-fired power plants is situated, with more than 100 people in attendance, according to the organizers.

They are mostly concerned about the safety of their drinking water, since all of the coal ash basins at the state’s 14 plants have been leaking. State regulators have been monitoring the utility’s groundwater testing, and have issued letters to nearly 300 private well owners advising them not to drink the water. The utility has already begun providing bottled water to some residents.

Duke Energy is concerned that the state has been confusing some well owners by reporting overly restrictive levels of contaminates while the water remains at federal safe drinking standards.

Additional recent testing of wells not close enough to have been affected by coal ash in the groundwater showed contaminated samples, indicating the contamination was naturally occurring. Tests showed those 24 wells didn’t meet state groundwater nor health-screening standards, but were within federal drinking water standards. Do-not-drink warnings went to 20 owners.

The groundwater testing is part of a coal ash management law the legislature passed last year that will lead to the eventual closure and cleanup of the coal ash bonds.  

Mike Rusher, communications director at the state Department of Environmental Quality, responded by email:

“This administration was the first to tackle the more than 60-year-old problem of coal ash and issued a record $25.1 million fine to hold Duke Energy accountable for groundwater contamination. State law mandates that DEQ oversee the cleanup and closure of all of coal ash impoundments based on sound science and public participation. We are proud of the progress made by this administration and remain committed to protecting public health and the environment through science-based decisions and rigorous oversight of the cleanup process.”