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Environmental groups ask McCrory to stop coal ash confusion

A number of environmental groups on Monday urged Gov. Pat McCrory to listen to scientific experts and stop confusing neighbors of coal ash ponds.

A total of 15 groups sent a letter to McCrory that says his administration has taken “troubling steps” that place the health of coal ash neighbors at risk. The letter’s focal point is a recent decision to declare most wells near coal ash ponds safe to drink. Yadkin Riverkeeper Will Scott, who has been involved in advocating for coal ash neighbors in the Dukeville community, is among the individuals who signed the letter.

“As governor of our state, it’s time for you to take control of a situation that has gone from bad to worse for people living near Duke Energy coal ash pits,” the letter states. “Please take action to show that your administration prioritizes the well-being of people in this state over the interests of a major polluter.”

In a news release about the letter, Scott says politically appointed officials have chosen to reject health protection standards set by experts. Instead, state environmental regulators are siding with Duke Energy consultants.

“It is a testament to the state of government in North Carolina that our highest public health officials chose to rely on the conclusions of experts paid by Duke Energy rather than what their own staff said was required by state public health rules,” Scott said.

In 2015, hundreds of water wells near coal ash ponds across North Carolina were declared unsafe to drink because of levels of chemicals that exceeded state standards. Nearly every well in the Dukeville community was declared unsafe to drink. The metals hexavalent chromium and vanadium showed up most frequently on tests that exceeded state standards.

At the time, scientists based recommendations on a cancer risk of “no more than one in a million,” the letter states. State officials recently lifted most of the “do not drink” recommendations across the state and raised health standards for vanadium significantly. Although it lifted the “do not drink’ recommendations, state officials have set a new standard for hexavalent chromium.

The letter cites an article in the Winston-Salem Journal, which found that technical experts weren’t consulted when the standards were changed.

“Well water users should receive an accurate report on the risks calculated by the agency’s public health experts,” the letter states.

It also asks McCrory to start an investigation on how the new standards were developed. In a March interview with the Salisbury Post, Public Health Director Randall Williams said the standards were changed, in part, because some municipal well water shows higher levels of the same contaminants found in Dukeville.

The final item in the letter asks McCrory to listen to concerns from coal ash neighbors across North Carolina. Capping coal ash ponds in place is not a safe cleanup, it states.

“Listen to the thousands of North Carolinians that have asked the state to carry through its obligation to protect the public from coal ash pollution,” the letter states. “Community members have weighed in to tell your (Department of Environmental Quality) that no community is low priority and that every family living near coal ash deserves a safe cleanup.”

Instead of capping coal ash in place, speakers during a recent public forum on Dukeville’s ponds advocated for the material being placed in dry, lined storage.

Currently, Buck Steam Station’s ponds have been labeled “low-to-intermediate” priority, which means the coal ash could be capped in place. A high or intermediate rating would ensure coal ash is excavated.

State regulators are collecting public comments about Buck Steam Station until April 18. Comments can be emailed to buckcomments@ncdenr.gov.

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246.

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