Just a few hours after an Associated Press report already revealed the troubling news, the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) is publicly acknowledging that most drinking wells sampled near Duke Energy's coal ash ponds included contaminants exceeding state groundwater standards.
Of 117 sample results, 87 surpassed the state's standards, DENR said, although they would still meet the more lax federal guidelines imposed by the Safe Drinking Water Act. Residents were mailed their test results, as well as health risk evaluations and potential well treatment options to eliminate the contaminants.
"If we determine that groundwater standards in a well have been exceeded and that a coal ash pond is the source of that exceedence, we will require Duke Energy to provide the residents with an alternative water supply," said Tom Reeder, assistant secretary for DENR, in a statement.
Duke Energy was required by last year's Coal Ash Management Act to conduct testing at drinking wells within 1,000 feet of a coal ash pond property. These test results come from samples taken near the energy giant's Allen, Asheville, Belews Creek, Buck, Cliffside, Marshall, Roxboro and Sutton facilities, the state said.
DENR, oft-critizised for its seemingly cozy relationship with Duke Energy, said in its statement that the most common constituents exceeding state standards were iron, manganese and pH, all of which can be found naturally in North Carolina soil as well as in coal ash.
However, the AP is also reporting that some of the wells sampled included high levels of vanadium, a toxic metal found in coal ash.
The results come as state officials weigh applications from Duke Energy to dump roughly 3 million tons in abandoned brick mines in Lee and Chatham counties, part of a multi-year plan to dispose of about 100 million tons of the potentially toxic coal byproduct in North Carolina over the next 15 years. Check in tomorrow's Indy for additional coverage of that Duke proposal (Update: Read that coverage here).
Also, read a December report in the Indy revealing that the Lee and Chatham dumps, if approved, might allow the company to avoid legal liability for its coal ash.