In the wake of a Feb. 2 coal ash spill near Eden, North Carolina, another town in the state is re-examining the possible effects of living near a coal ash dump. Residents living in some 150 homes near the Buck Steam Station in Dukeville, North Carolina, are worrying about what’s in their water — and whether it’s affected their health — in the wake of revelations of possible well contamination.
Here are five things to know:
1. THE DUKEVILLE DUMPS
Built in 1926, Duke Energy’s Buck Steam Station sits along the banks of the Yadkin River in Dukeville, the name given to the original mill village built to house plant employees. The plant, named for company co-founder James “Buck” Duke, has three unlined pits containing an estimated 6.1 million tons of coal ash. Coal ash contains substances including arsenic, selenium, chromium, beryllium, thallium, mercury, cadmium and lead.
2. EXCESSIVE READINGS
Since 2011, monitoring wells surrounding the pits have exceeded state groundwater standards on 226 readings, including for high amounts of boron, manganese, iron and chromium. Residents living near the plant were not informed of the findings, nor did state regulators require Duke to test for contamination on any neighboring properties. Chromium is of concern because in its most toxic form — hexavalent chromium — it is a known carcinogen.
3. NEW TESTS
In recent months, the environmental group Waterkeeper Alliance tested well water from 15 homes near the plant and found that some contained contaminates — among them chromium and lead — at levels exceeding state standards. Another water sample, taken from a homeowner’s cow pasture, showed chromium at nearly 10 times state standards as well as high readings for lead, manganese, iron and boron. A Duke University geochemistry professor says the sample provides strong evidence coal ash contamination has spread to the farm.
4. RESIDENTS WORRY
Dukeville residents gathered last month for a town hall meeting about the ash pits, expressing worry about what’s in their water. They are asking for more studies of potential health effects and hoping that Duke will pay to extend municipal water lines out to where they live, as the company did in a neighborhood near Wilmington when drinking wells were threatened. Duke says the results of its own testing around the Buck plant shows residents are in no danger.
5. THE BIGGER PICTURE
Duke Energy, the nation’s largest electricity company, has 33 unlined coal ash basins at 14 sites in North Carolina, containing more than 100 million tons of waste. State regulators have known for years that pollution from the pits was contaminating groundwater. On Feb. 2, a pipe burst under one near Eden, coating the Dan River in gray sludge. State lawmakers are currently debating whether to force Duke to move all of its toxic ash away from rivers and lakes that numerous municipalities rely on for drinking water.
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