Coal Ash

Avner Vengosh
Duke University

As Duke Energy and environmentalists have debated the safety of private wells near coal ash ponds, they've disagreed about the source of a carcinogen called hexavalent chromium. Scientists at Duke University figured out how to identify the chemical’s source. Conclusions from the study of 376 private wells say coal ash likely isn't to blame. WFAE's David Boraks talked with the study's lead author, Avner Vengosh about his research and recommendations.

Coal ash belmont
Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation

One of the big debates over the safety of drinking water wells near coal cash ponds is whether a carcinogenic chemical called hexavalent chromium is naturally-occurring. Duke Energy says it is, while environmentalists say Duke’s coal ash ponds are to blame for polluted wells. A new Duke University study shows the chemical does occur naturally and contamination likely isn’t from coal ash. 

Duke is close to announcing coal-ash basin closure plans for a half-dozen plants, including the Marshall Steam Station on Lake Norman.
David Boraks / WFAE

New EPA rules require power plant operators nationwide to rate the safety risks of coal ash dams and say how they plan to clean up coal ash basins. Here in the Carolinas, Duke Energy has begun publishing some information. But closure plans won't be made public until next month.

The Neuse River inundated this hog farm in Goldsboro on Wednesday.
Rick Dove / Waterkeeper Alliance

Floodwaters in eastern North Carolina are still rising, but so far haven't swamped any of Duke Energy's active coal ash ponds. But environmentalists worry about older, dry, coal-ash basins that did flood. And they're concerned about how animal waste and dead livestock will affect water quality.

Buck Steam Station closed in 2013. Coal ash is stored in basins around the retired plant.
Duke Energy

Duke Energy has agreed to remove about 5 million tons of coal ash in three massive dumps from the Buck Steam Station near Salisbury, and recycle it for use in concrete.  The agreement settles a federal lawsuit filed two years ago against Duke by the Southern Environmental Law Center, on behalf of environmental groups.

dan river coal ash cleanup
David Boraks / WFAE

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights says coal ash ponds and landfills disproportionately affect poor and minority communities across the U.S. But that’s not what North Carolina officials found when they conducted their own “environmental justice reviews” of two sites this year.

The Dan River at Danville, Va. appears gray and coal ash accumulates in eddies downriver from the Dan River Steam Station in Eden, NC after a break in a storm water pipe underneath a coal ash pond at the plant.
John D. Simmons / Charlotte Observer

Duke Energy and state environmental regulators have settled a dispute over the size of a state fine over a coal ash spill near Duke's Dan River plant in Eden in February 2014.  

Duke agreed to pay $6 million for violations of the federal Clean Water Act during and after the spill in February 2014.

Buck Steam Station closed in 2013. Coal ash is stored in basins around the retired plant.
Duke Energy

   New tests have found high levels of arsenic and other chemicals in the Yadkin River, near Duke Energy's retired Buck coal plant in Salisbury. Duke doesn't dispute the test results, but disagrees with environmentalists over what the results mean for water quality.

  One  of the world's largest investment funds is selling all its Duke Energy bonds and shares. The government of Norway's pension fund has been a major Duke investor. But lately it's been divesting from companies that make money by mining or burning coal.

A worker delivers bottled water to a home in Belmont, near Duke Energy's Allen coal plant. Duke will provide a permament drinking water supply to well owners by 2018.
David Boraks / WFAE

State environmental officials are notifying owners of private wells near Duke Energy coal plants that they'll be getting new permanent water supplies or home water filters by late 2018.