Mercury in the Water


New groundwater tests show mercury has entered the “witches’ brew” of toxic pollutants from unlined coal ash pits in North Carolina.

Duke Energy oversees multiple such pits which leak toxic chemicals into groundwater. State environmental permits require Duke to regularly monitor groundwater contamination on these sites. If Duke finds a new water contaminant that exceeds federal groundwater protection standards, they must file public reports within 60 days.

We can now add mercury — a potent neurotoxin — to the list of pollutants leaking from some of the coal ash pits. Last week, Duke revealed they found mercury in a test well near their Belews Creek plant. The mercury levels exceeded more than 10 times that area’s background mercury level in groundwater. Monitoring sites across the state also detected more new toxic pollutants at other sites. Among these reported pollutants is radium.

Is North Carolina merely settling for toxic coal ash pollution at Duke Energy’s hands?

In short, our state is trying not to.

The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has ordered Duke to relocate all coal ash in unlined storage to safer lined landfills. The order comes after these unlined sites led to toxic leaks into groundwater. Even so, Duke is fighting the order in state court.

The Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) asserts the new toxic leak findings are clear evidence the unlined sites must go. As such, they profess Duke should stop fighting the cleanup orders, and implement them. Utility companies are already required to clean up unlined pits in other states. If Duke must clean up unlined pits in South Carolina and Virginia, it is time they clean up those in North Carolina as well.

Frank Holleman, a senior SELC attorney, made a statement on Duke’s refusal to clean up their coal ash mess.

“Duke Energy’s coal ash is injecting a witch’s brew of toxic pollutants into North Carolina’s waters, and now Duke Energy admits that the nasty flow is even worse than previously reported. Duke Energy needs to stop fighting North Carolina’s people and North Carolina’s government and start moving its toxic coal ash from these unlined, polluting pits to dry, lined storage out of our groundwater and away from our drinking water supplies.”

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