State tests contradict riverkeeper’s December results
By Josh Bergeron
Tests conducted at Buck Steam Plant by the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources partially contradict prior results released in December by the Yadkin Riverkeeper.
The state test results, obtained this week by the Salisbury Post, show exceedances in iron and manganese at the same site tested by the Riverkeeper organization. A riverbank sample 1.75 miles upstream also showed exceedances in tested metals. However, Environment and Natural Resources spokeswoman Susan Massengale said in an email that the test results could have been affected by an element — nitric acid — that’s required to preserve collected material. The nitric acid would result in increased concentrations of metals.
The area sampled by both Yadkin Riverkeeper and the state agency showed an orange stain on soil, associated with iron bacteria, and the state’s tests were primarily focused on metals that occur naturally and in coal ash.
Massengale said the agency’s results are inconclusive about whether or not the groundwater chemistry at the riverbank was a result of coal ash storage ponds, located 1,000 feet away. The tests showed concentrations of boron — which is considered non-toxic to humans — arsenic, a small level of lead, and other elements.
“The short story is that there were only iron and manganese state groundwater standards exceedances detected in the groundwater discharge/seep sample but no state groundwater standards exceedances were detected in the Yadkin River samples at this location or upriver,” Massengale said in an email.
Will Scott, the lead advocate for the Yadkin Riverkeeper organization, argues that the state agency’s test results clearly link the seeps to coal ash stored nearby.
“They may not be conclusive, but they do explicitly suggest that the riverbank seeps may be connected” to monitoring wells, Scott said. “In short, the only explanation for the riverbank seeps DENR offers is a known seep outside the compliance boundary. While this particular set of test results may not be conclusive, that explanation says a lot.”
The Yadkin Riverkeeper hasn’t yet released the exact results of its tests, citing ongoing litigation with Duke Energy. A statement from the Riverkeeper released in December said: “Tests of the leaks reveal common coal ash pollutants such as arsenic, barium, cadmium, chromium, lead, manganese, and selenium at levels that exceed health protection standards. Known or suspected human carcinogens such as cadmium were found at eight times the amount allowed for groundwater and surface water. Other pollutants known to harm human health were found, ranging from arsenic at three times legal limits to barium at levels that exceed health protection standards by over 6,000 times.”
The Riverkeeper conducted its tests when water levels on High Rock Lake had been lowered to allow N.C. Department of Transportation crews to inspect St. Matthews Church Road, which only recently reopened.
The test results at Buck Steam Station were released to the Salisbury Post one day after the state agency fined Duke $25.1 million for groundwater contamination from coal ash at the company’s Sutton Plant near Wilmington. The state fined Duke, in part, because the company allowed coal ash contaminants to leach into groundwater for several years.
Massengale said additional fines could be forthcoming at other facilities as the state agency enforces the Coal Ash Management Act passed in 2014.
Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246