More than a year after a broken stormwater pipe leaked dangerous coal ash into North Carolina’s Dan River, area residents are still faced with limited access to clean water. Eighty-seven property owners in North Carolina have received letters from the state’s Department of Environmental and Natural Resources informing them that their well water is no longer safe to drink or cook with. Recent testing found that groundwater supplies are polluted with toxic byproducts from the 2014 spill. Coal ash in the water is responsible for unsafe levels of chemicals such as vanadium—which causes respiratory problems—and the carcinogen hexavalent chromium to seep into groundwater. Duke Energy has not yet conceded that their pits are the source of the pollution, but the company has offered to provide bottled water to households that have received a notice from the state.


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The findings come just over a year after a failed pipeline at one of Duke Energy’s seven retired North Carolina coal plants caused 82,000 tons of coal ash spilled into the Dan River. This coal ash—a byproduct of coal-fired power plants that is stored on land in large pits—contains not just vanadium and chromium, but also lead, mercury, arsenic and selenium. Many states require that these pits be lined in an effort to prevent groundwater contamination, but North Carolina had no such regulations.

Related: 82,000 tons of toxic coal ash and 27 million gallons of contaminated water spill into North Carolina river

In the time since that disaster, North Carolina implemented new laws to monitor the effects of these coal ash pits, and committed to testing all wells within 1,000 feet of Duke Energy’s 32 NC coal ash dumps. So far 145 wells have been tested, with 87 showing unsafe levels of harmful chemicals. The AP reports that “private drinking-water wells near the plant showed readings for vanadium as high as 86 times the state groundwater standard.”

Residents living near Duke Energy’s 14 North Carolina coal plants have long been concerned that byproducts from the operations of the nation’s largest energy company has been making them sick, and these latest tests appear to confirm these fears. Speaking to The Guardian, Sam Perkins of the North Carolina nonprofit Catawba Riverkeeper explained, “A lot of residents are really concerned because some of them have been drinking from these supplies for decades… You start thinking back about any health problems and you have to wonder what they’re related to.”

Duke Energy refuses to confirm the state’s findings, and insists that it will conduct its own tests. But, claiming that they would rather “over prescribe than under prescribe,” the energy company offered to provide bottled water to the 87 properties who have received notice from the state. Duke has also agreed to pay a $102 million fine as a result of the Dan River spill, and will be required by law to move or cap all of its coal ash dumps by 2029.

There is some concern that this will not be enough; speaking to the Washington Post, John Suttles, a senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center said, “Duke’s coal ash pits are leaking toxic pollutants into groundwater… 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.”

Via The Guardian

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