Duke Energy has 3 unlined coal ash ponds at its Buck power plant near Spencer, NC located on the Yadkin River. The coal ash ponds have the capacity to hold 1.5 billion gallons of coal ash. They hold decades of accumulated metal cleaning wastes, fly ash, bottom ash and boiler slag. According to EPA, coal ash ponds at Buck are rated as High Hazard. According to the state, the coal ash ponds are leaking and contaminating groundwater, violating both state and federal laws. The state of NC has filed legal action against Duke Energy for some violations of state law that prohibit and/or limit the pollution of ground water. The US Attorney’s office has launched a criminal investigation into Duke Energy and the NC Department of Environment Natural Resources based in part on the states attempt to help shield Duke Energy from environmental enforcement.
Duke Energy was recently required by the state to monitor ground water around the perimeter of the ash ponds. They have submitted ground water monitoring well data to the state of NC since 2006. Between 2006 and 2013 there were a total of 327 exceedances of the NC groundwater standards at Buck. They were for boron, chromium, iron, manganese, total dissolved solids, pH and sulfate. The exceedances ranged from 1.1 to 25 - three times higher than the standards. Most of the exceedances were for pH, iron and manganese. Lead was also detected although it did not exceed ground water standards.
It should be noted that Duke Energy’s self-reported data has been significantly lower than state test results on those very rare occasions when DENR split samples and independently checked the accuracy of Duke’s analysis. In 2009, Duke and DENR split samples from the Cape Fear coal ash pond and tested the same water with very different results. Duke's lab found practically no arsenic while the state found 140 ppb. Duke found no selenium but the state found 240 ppb. Duke's lab also reported 216 ppb of aluminum while the state found 1,400 ppb. Duke’s samples were significantly lower than the state’s results by 140 to 1,184 ppb. If Duke Energy self-reported sampling results for Buck are inaccurate by a margin of 140 to 1,400 ppb, there could be significantly more exceedances of ground water standards than summarized above.
Many of the exceedances occurred at monitoring wells located adjacent to neighboring property lines and/or at compliance boundaries. Despite years of exceedances at the compliance boundary and at neighboring property lines, NC DENR has failed to require Duke Energy to "take immediate action to eliminate the source or sources of contamination" or"implement an approved corrective action plan for the restoration of ground water quality" as required by NC law.
This article attached (start on page 55) documents an extensive investigation into brain cancer and brain tumors linked to the Buck Steam Plant in the 1980’s, the investigation failed to connect cancer clusters to the power lines which was the focus of the article and the investigation. We have since followed up with the researchers who participated in this study and they never tested the wells from private land owners living adjacent to the coal ash ponds. Yet, the cancer clusters/brain tumors/public health issues identified in the 1980’s are still happening to residents living around Buck coal ash ponds today. We are working with the community to conduct private well testing. Despite numerous public record requests, the NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources has been unwilling to provide private well testing data conducted more than two months ago.
Thankfully, Senator Gene McLaurin (Rowan County) has agreed to include the Buck Steam Plant coal ash ponds for removal in any of the proposed legislation that General Assembly will be considering this legislative session. Other law makers who represent Rowan County have yet to respond to our request, to let us if they are willing to support Senator McLaurin in listing the Buck coal ash ponds for removal like other coal ash ponds across the state.
Duke Energy has already agreed to run water lines to a community in Wilmington because of the extensive ground water contamination from their coal ash ponds. Citizens living around the Buck Steam Plant and many people living on the Yadkin River would not only like the Buck coal ash ponds removed, but water lines run to the surrounding community, similar to what was done in Wilmington and for the UNC School of Public Health or some independent third party— a credible university— to investigate public health issues in the community living around Buck Steam Plant.
Data collected by the EPA found that people living near coal ash waste ponds have as high as a 1 in 50 chance of developing cancer after exposure to drinking water contaminated with arsenic, a toxic coal ash pollutant. The odds increase for people who get their drinking water from wells and who live near unlined, wet coal ash ponds that contain other related waste; nearly all of Duke Energy's coal ash ponds in North Carolina meet this description including Buck Steam Plant coal ash ponds.
A recent poll showed;
- 90% of North Carolinians who said that Duke Energy should clean up all coal ash sites in the state, including the Dan River spill, and 88% feel coal ash should be stored away from water in specially lined landfills
- 83% of North Carolina voters said coal ash should be regulated as a hazardous substance, including super majorities of Democrats (91%), independents (85%) and Republicans (75%). Just 7% disagree.
Despite overwhelming public support to clean up Duke Energy’s coal ash ponds, Duke Energy, the NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the NC Environmental Management Commission are appealing a recent state court decision in which Judge Ridgeway ruled Duke must “take immediate action to eliminate the source or sources of contamination; submit a report to the Director assessing the cause, significance and extent of the violation; and implement an approved corrective action plan for restoration of the groundwater quality”
It is time to remove Duke’s 37 unlined coal ash ponds by moving them away from our rivers and drinking water supplies, into a dry storage, lined landfills, the same way we store our own municipal waste. Please let your lawmakers know, you want Duke Energy to clean up all of Duke’s coal ash ponds, provide water lines to communities living on wells around coal ash ponds and investigate public health issues for communities like the “Dukeville” community living adjacent to the Buck coal ash ponds.
Please take a brief moment to contact state lawmakers below and ask if they will support Senator Gene McLaurin to include the Buck coal ash ponds, located on the Yadkin River, in any legislation requiring cleanup of coal ash. Be sure to thank Senator McLaurin for his leadership on this important issue and any other lawmakers who support cleaning up coal ash ponds on the Yadkin River.
Rowan County Representation
Please share with others. Why should coal ash ponds on the Yadkin remain while other coal ash ponds across the state are slated for clean up?
Dean Naujoks, Executive Director
Yadkin Riverkeeper, Inc.