New Coal Ash Leaks Discovered at Duke Energy’s Buck Power Plant

Massive coal ash pollution leaks have been discovered pouring from Duke Energy’s Buck Power Plant into the Yadkin River, conservation groups revealed today. Testing confirmed this week that the extensive coal ash seeps – which have not been previously identified or publicly disclosed by Duke Energy or the NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources – contain high levels of pollutants such as arsenic, lead, and selenium.   

In mid-November, Waterkeeper Alliance and Yadkin Riverkeeper discovered a quarter-mile long area of orange-colored leakage located below the normal waterline of the Yadkin River adjacent to the coal ash impoundments at Duke’s Buck Station, which is located in central North Carolina near Salisbury. When the Yadkin River is at normal water levels, this coal ash pollution continues to flow into the River but is hidden from public view.  

“This new evidence confirms the extent and magnitude of the coal ash pollution leaking into the Yadkin River,” said John Suttles, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center, which is representing Waterkeeper Alliance and Yadkin Riverkeeper with respect to the coal ash storage and pollution at the Buck facility. “The volume and level of pollution from Duke’s leaky coal ash lagoons will require more than a band aid solution to protect the River and nearby communities.”

Tests of the leaks reveal common coal ash pollutants such as arsenic, barium, cadmium, chromium, lead, manganese, and selenium at levels that exceed health protection standards. Known or suspected human carcinogens such as cadmium were found at eight times the amount allowed for groundwater and surface water. Other pollutants known to harm human health were found, ranging from arsenic at three times legal limits to barium at levels that exceed health protection standards by over 6,000 times.

“It was deeply unsettling to find that known coal ash contaminants have been leaking directly into the Yadkin river below the waterline for an undetermined period of time,” said Yadkin Riverkeeper Will Scott. “We hope that Duke Energy will take these new leaks as evidence that the only way to protect the Yadkin River from further contamination is to move the ash from Buck to safe, lined storage.”

“Riverkeepers across North Carolina have found dozens of toxic leaks from Duke’s coal ash ponds that you can actually see flowing right out of the impoundment walls and into nearby rivers and streams,” said Pete Harrison, an attorney for Waterkeeper Alliance. “We’ve also been concerned that the contaminated ground water might be leaking into the rivers below the water’s surface, where nobody can see it. These latest tests don’t just confirm our fears, they show that the toxic loading into the water is actually far worse than we’d imagined.”

Duke Energy retired its coal-fired units at the Buck Power Station in April 2013, but there is still coal ash stored on site and Duke has not announced a closure plan for these impoundments, nor have they publicly mentioned any leakage from the coal ash ponds.

Photographs of the newly discovered seeps at the Buck Plant can be downloaded here: http://goo.gl/XjcWHB

SELC currently represents dozens of groups in ten different state and federal lawsuits to clean up at all 14 of Duke Energy’s leaking coal ash sites throughout North Carolina.