Toxic heavy metals found in drinking water wells next to coal ash dump in North Carolina
Waterkeeper Alliance released the results of a water testing investigation, first reported in an Associated Press (AP) Big Story. The AP story highlighted serious health issues among people living near three large coal ash disposal pits at Duke Energy’s Buck Steam Station, a retired coal-fired power plant on the Yadkin River in Rowan County, N.C. The health issues include a long history of cancer diagnoses and other serious ailments, such as birth defects.
Many residents living around Buck Station have begun to question whether the health issues are related to toxic heavy metals leaking from Duke Energy’s coal ash impoundments, contaminating groundwater in the area that supplies private wells in the community. Since 2008, Duke Energy has reported 350 exceedances of North Carolina groundwater standards at Buck, for contaminants including boron, chromium, iron, manganese, total dissolved solids, pH and sulfate. The exceedances ranged from 1.1 to 25 times higher than state standards.
Twice this April and again in May, Waterkeeper Alliance staff collected water samples from five private wells that provide drinking water to homes located less than 1,000 ft from the Buck coal ash ponds. Yadkin Riverkeeper also sampled bright orange seepage oozing out of the side of one of the coal ash dumps onto the adjacent property. It also was collected from a seep leaking onto private property. The samples were analyzed by nationally accredited laboratories to screen for 12 heavy metals commonly associated with coal ash, including lead and chromium.
- Lead: Total lead in two of the five private drinking water wells measured 58 ppb and 19 ppb, or 3.8 and 1.2 times higher than the North Carolina groundwater standard of 15 ppb.
- Chromium: Hexavalent chromium was detected in all five private drinking water wells tested by Waterkeeper Alliance. Levels ranged from 0.11 to 6.7 ppb. While there is no federal or North Carolina drinking water standard specifically for hexavalent chromium, the state of California has proposed a public health goal of 0.02 ppb, based on data indicating that even minute quantities of the substance can pose severe risks to human health. The Waterkeeper Alliance test results ranged between 5.5 to 335 times higher than the proposed California public health goal.
- Leaking contamination: Waterkeeper Alliance and Yadkin Riverkeeper found highly toxic water leaking out of the ground on the side of a coal ash lagoon onto the property owned by Ron and JoAnn Thomas, less than 500 ft from one of the Duke Energy coal ash ponds at Buck. The seepage contained 6.2 times the accepted standard for lead, 9.7 times the accepted standard for chromium, 562 times the accepted standard for manganese, 1,086 times the accepted standard for iron, and 1.5 times the accepted standard for boron.