State Leaders Lack Urgency, Outrage Over Well Water Contamination Near Coal Ash Ponds

Posted in: United States Water News, Water Contamination, Water Health Effects
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(Photo credit: NC POLICY WATCH)

Article courtesy of Mindy Robinson | June 03, 2015 | NC POLICY WATCH | Shared as educational material

There’s something in the water down here in Goldsboro. For some of my neighbors, that something is cobalt, manganese and even hexavalent chromium – a known carcinogen made famous by the Erin Brockovich scandal in California and the subsequent Hollywood movie.

Seven households in the Rosewood neighborhood have been informed by state environmental regulators that their water is unsafe to drink or use for cooking. Others are still waiting for their results, tentatively using well water that seems likely to be contaminated.

Goldsboro is not alone. Nearly 200 wells near Duke Energy’s coal ash ponds at eight power plants across the state are contaminated. Another 140 test results are still pending. And that’s just within 1,000 feet of the ponds. They haven’t even gotten to the wells further away than that yet, so there will be even more well testing to come.

We are just one part of a much larger picture.

Our outrage is growing stronger every day, as Duke begins – without any urgency — to deliver a measly gallon of water per person per day to the people affected and our state agency tasked to protect us from environmental harm shrugs its shoulders about this threat to our health.

Duke says the well water would pass federal drinking water standards (which is intentionally misleading since those standards don’t apply to private wells) but doesn’t pass our state’s standards. The state created its own health screening levels for private water wells, and those standards have been surpassed in 90 percent of the wells sampled so far.

The state Department of Environment and Natural Resources has parroted Duke’s claim that the contamination could be naturally occurring. Scientists are nearly unanimous in finding that hexavalent chromium doesn’t occur naturally. When almost every well tested near coal ash ponds so far has come back with contamination well over the state’s health limits, it’s pretty hard to believe that’s a coincidence.

People in Goldsboro who live near the H.F. Lee plant need definitive answers and a plan for corrective action, not confusing mixed messages, excuses, and procrastination.

A number of activists are working hard, on their own time, to fill in information gaps for neighbors and direct people to the proper resources for having water tested and requesting water from Duke when their tests show contamination. We are looking out for one another, but our efforts do beg the question: why isn’t DENR filling this need?

Where is their concern for the 200 households who can no longer drink their water, and who are dealing with the fear of recounting every time they filled a glass from their faucet, brushed their teeth or bathed their children in water filled with toxic metals?

Duke Energy is a for-profit company with a criminal record when it comes to handling coal ash. And while DENR is supposed to be on our side, it sure doesn’t seem that way. We need answers, and we need protection from the toxic threat of coal ash leaching into water supplies. A dam failure at the Lee plant could put the municipal water supplies at risk as well, so this is a problem not just for well owners, but for every resident of Wayne County and counties downstream. If you don’t believe me, just ask one of the thousands affected by the Dan River dam failure last year.

Despite what the water sampling shows, not one ounce of coal ash has been moved from the Lee plant, and no action has been taken to stop the contamination. Pulling people off their well water doesn’t fix the problem; it only shifts the burden onto everyday people who deserve better.

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