Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Water near coal ash ponds is tainted

Posted By on Wed, Oct 7, 2009 at 5:38 PM

An interesting note: The EPA listed "Mountain Island" as the closest town to Duke Energy's Riverbend Steam Station Coal Plant's unlined coal ash ponds.

First of all, there is no such town. Second, they said it was six miles down stream -- which, of course, is impossible since it doesn't exist.

But, if anyone was paying attention they'd know that the Charlotte suburb is right across the Rozzelle Ferry Bridge on Highway 16 and that the Catawba River Pumping Station -- which sucks millions of gallons of Charlotte-Mecklenburg drinking water every day out of the lake -- is just downstream and around the bend from Charlotte's two high-hazard coal plants.

The draft of the EPA report, which I've read cover to cover (it's a quick read since most of it is redacted), says the wells drilled near the unlined coal ash ponds to monitor ground water are bubbling over with water. That means the water table is very high. That means these unlined ponds are sitting on and in an area where the groundwater is very near the surface. That also means this finding probably isn't a surprise to the state, the EPA or to Duke Energy.

State data show contaminated groundwater near all 13 N.C. coal-ash ponds owned by Duke Energy and Progress Energy, an environmental group said Tuesday.

Ash, left by coal-burning power plants, is loaded with metals that can be toxic at high levels. It's often mixed with water and piped into open basins, a practice under scrutiny since a ruptured dike in Tennessee spilled 5 million cubic yards of sludge in December.

The analysis by Boone-based Appalachian Voices shows ash can also seep into groundwater and, the group said, also needs more oversight by regulators. The report detailed 681 instances in the testing of the ponds in which pollutants exceeded state groundwater standards.

Duke and N.C. groundwater officials didn't challenge the group's analysis. But they said there's no evidence that contaminated groundwater is flowing off the large, rural power plant sites into neighborhoods where people could be exposed to it.

"Based on the data we have, we do not believe we have any potential impact on public health or the environment," said Dave Mitchell, Duke's managing director for environmental issues.

"At this point, the jury is still out," said Ted Bush, the state's aquifer-protection chief. "We don't know definitively, and we're convinced no one knows, whether these groundwater exceedances are violations that are enforceable."

The reason: State law allows groundwater contamination inside a "compliance boundary" 250 to 500 feet around an ash pond.

The EPA now says it will propose tightening regulation of coal ash by late this year. Cancer risks from drinking groundwater tainted by arsenic from unlined coal-ash ponds are 900 times higher than the government says is acceptable, the agency has estimated.

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