In February 2014, a horrendous spill occurred from coal ash ponds at Duke Energy’s shuttered Dan River Steam Station near Eden. Some 39,000 tons of ash spilled into the Dan River. Duke was fined – not much, relatively speaking – and vowed a cleanup. It’s a cleanup environmentalists say has not occurred.
More than two years later, the state has told some 400 residents with wells near coal ash ponds that their drinking water is safe. But that directive, as reported by The Charlotte Observer, came after what appeared to be either arm-twisting of state officials who doubted that recommendation or too-dutiful appointees of Gov. Pat McCrory who continue to claim the water is safe enough and that levels of contaminants in the water are acceptable.
North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality has said that all of Duke Energy’s coal ash ponds have to be excavated. However, DEQ wants the General Assembly to let the department review any decisions in 18 months. That could mean that if Duke fixed the dams on its ponds and came up with alternative water sources for those homeowners whose wells are contaminated, Duke could avoid billions of dollars in cleanup expense.
This isn’t a confidence builder in the McCrory administration’s interest in protecting citizens instead of the power company.
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Consider that the state epidemiologist. Dr. Megan Davies, said in a deposition she gave to the watchdog Southern Environmental Law Center that she was “conflicted” about letters that rescinded the “don’t drink” advisories sent to those well owners near ash ponds. Davies is a physician trained in health patterns.
But the doctor said McCrory’s office intervened in the wording of warning letters sent to well owners a year ago. The state reversed the “don’t drink” warnings in March.
The state’s health department says the water safety standards meet federal drinking water requirements. But the Observer reported that no standards exist for hexavalent chromium and vanadium, cancer-causing contaminants.
Catawba Riverkeeper Sam Perkins, who is connected to a foundation that is represented by the law center, put together data showing that the average levels of hexavalent chromium in private wells near two Duke plants – Allen in Gaston County and Buck in Rowan County – were more than 20 times higher than the averages in 11 public water systems, including Charlotte’s.
That is not acceptable. It’s clear the administration needs to focus on the water safety of these wells.