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Editorial: Test results don’t alleviate public concerns

Would you like some water with your glass of arsenic?

Perhaps you’d prefer to make tea with well water. Don’t worry. The soil filtered most of the coal ash water on its way to your well. Besides, the liquid from coal ash ponds doesn’t flow toward private wells anyway.

Statements from Duke Energy and environmentalists seems to be inconclusive. Accusations are often outlandish. In response, Duke either attempts to alleviate fears, which can be equally unbelievable, or the company stays silent and pays what it owes in fines.

A report last year by the Yadkin Riverkeeper echoed the concerns of many across the nation when it painted the picture that contaminants were leaking out of local coal ash ponds by the buckets. Expectedly, Duke Energy responded by attempting to refute the claims. Duke’s test results, according to spokesperson Erin Culbert, showed exceedances in only two categories, iron and manganese, which Culbert said shouldn’t be a concern for the water quality of the Yadkin River. Duke wouldn’t provide exact test results. Culbert said the company first needed to submit its test results to the N.C. Department of Natural Resources.

Likewise, the riverkeeper organization hasn’t provided its results.

When DENR this week provided its results to the Salisbury Post, they mirrored Duke’s results. The tests found metals as the only exceedances. Chemicals such as arsenic and boron were listed as present, but not in alarming amounts. DENR employees who sampled the Yadkin River and its bank are listed on test documents, which may cancel concerns that the results were simply a copy of Duke’s.

DENR’s results are likely accurate and free from Duke Energy’s influence, but the state agency hasn’t exactly alleviated concerns in the past about its association with the multi-billion-dollar company. Both employees and lawyers for DENR have previously been linked to Duke as doing work for the company. The accusations aren’t a firm confirmation of bias, but even an implication affects public opinion.

To truly discover the exact effect of the coal ash ponds on the environment, an independent organization with no allegiance or implied bias should investigate claims from environmentalists. It shouldn’t be a simple surface sample or a sprinkle of dirt from the Yadkin Riverbank. The coal ash ponds in Rowan County are unlined. As one might expect, the contaminated liquid could leak into the ground, and subsequently into water.

To be clear, DENR is in the midst of enforcing the Coal Ash Management Act, passed in 2014. As a start, the state agency fined Duke more than $25 million for environmental violations. More fines are said to be coming.

Fines are great, but the true desire of environmentalists is the clean up of all coal ash. And, until the public knows the exact effect of coal ash on their communities, we’ll be left with outlandish, unbelievable statements to sway public opinion.

 

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