Impacted Communities: Recent Actions Continue to Mislead the Public on Coal Ash
Contacts: Bobby Jones, Down East Coal Ash Coalition: 919-394-0727
Caroline Armijo, Residents for Coal Ash Cleanup: 919-358-5057
The Alliance of Carolinians Together Against Coal Ash, a statewide coalition of residents in North Carolina impacted or potentially impacted by coal ash, is outraged by the pattern of misleading the public we continue to see in the actions and statements of Duke Energy, the NC Dept. of Environmental Quality (DEQ), and the McCrory administration.
Duke Energy and state officials misled the public during the recent floods from Hurricane Matthew in eastern NC. Duke Energy stated everything at its coal fired plants and coal ash sites was functioning safely during the recent floods in the Neuse River Basin, at the very time a breach of the cooling pond dam was occurring, as discovered by a TV news crew and WaterKeeper groups. Then, the company denied that coal ash materials were spilled into the Neuse River until photos taken by advocates showed otherwise. DEQ also told the public the same story promoted by Duke Energy that the spill was limited and contained only inert “cenospheres,” small glassy spheres formed during coal combustion. Sampling of the spilled material showed that the cenospheres are indeed fly ash, and they carried toxic metals into the Neuse River.
Bobby Jones of Goldsboro asks, “to what extent have our communities been poisoned this time? We know that we must work to find the answer for ourselves. Everybody who is supposed to help us (the administration, DEQ and Duke Energy) will only lie to us again.”
The ash spill from inactive basins at the HF Lee plant should be a warning that ALL coal ash pits, whether active or not, pose a high risk to surrounding communities. Roger Hollis, a resident near the Cliffside plant in Cleveland County, says, “We can’t predict hurricanes and natural disasters, but the contamination of the aftermath can be mostly eliminated.”
“The best and only way to eliminate these environmental threats is to remove the ash from unlined pits. Until the ash in North Carolina is all excavated and encapsulated or recycled, and not just dumped in other communities, the threat of ash contamination will continue well into our future,” says David Hairston, who lives near the Belews Creek plant in Stokes County.
Top state officials in the Department of Health and Human Services, DEQ, and the Governor’s office have misled the public by undermining their own scientists, manipulating wording in letters to well owners near coal ash sites, and minimizing substantial health concerns about drinking water well contamination. More evidence of this manipulation was recently released in the testimony of DHHS employee Kendra Gerlach, joining other state employees under oath who have been asked about the changes to the do-not-drink letters. These actions by top state officials even caused well-respected State Epidemiologist Megan Davies to resign, saying she could not work for “a Department and an Administration that deliberately misleads the public.”
Duke Energy has routinely misled the public by misrepresenting technical information in their public relations statements. On Wednesday, Dr. Avner Vengosh of Duke University released a report indicating that hexavalent chromium, a toxic carcinogen associated with coal ash, may also be naturally occurring in some rock types in the piedmont of North Carolina and is a more widespread problem in private well water than was previously known. Duke Energy immediately released a statement cherry-picking information in the report to insist that their unlined ash pits are benign. Dr. Vengosh’s own statement at the time of the release reminds us that “The impact of leaking coal ash ponds on water resources is still a major environmental issue.” Dr. Vengosh’s study from earlier this year indicates that coal ash pits are the culprit for several other toxic contaminants found in wells, such as arsenic and selenium, and doesn’t rule out a contribution of coal ash to hexavalent chromium in groundwater.
Duke Energy is promoting this report as proof they are innocent of contaminating wells. However, given past history and research on movement of contaminants into groundwater near coal ash sites, such a claim is clearly unwarranted. Our communities are in disbelief that the utility thinks we have been “needlessly concerned” about a toxic, cancer-causing contaminant tainting our drinking water wells. No matter the source, we are deeply concerned about the threat of hexavalent chromium to our health and the health of our neighbors in NC, and we demand additional testing to protect NC families from this toxin.
History shows us we cannot trust our own North Carolina officials or Duke Energy to be truthful. Their statements betray either a lack of knowledge, or a willful determination to hide the truth from the public. Either way, as stated in our Alliance’s Unifying Principles, “we demand a transparent process to coal ash cleanup in which Duke Energy and N.C. decision makers are open and honest about the health effects of chemicals found in coal ash, and any plans for disposal or recycling coal ash.” North Carolinians deserve the whole truth.
The Alliance of Carolinians Together Against Coal Ash is a powerful coalition of North Carolinians impacted or potentially impacted by Duke Energy’s coal ash. Learn more at actagainstcoalash.org.