NC’s ongoing coal ash regulatory disaster shows urgency of EPA action

It’s been 10 months since a pipe broke beneath a coal ash waste pit at a shuttered Duke Energy power plant in North Carolina, sending 39,000 tons of toxic waste into the Dan River, a drinking water source for downstream communities in Virginia and North Carolina.

One might think that 10 months would have been enough time for the company and North Carolina state regulators to ensure that the coal ash pits at its 13 other power plants across the state were secured and not putting other water sources at risk – but one would be wrong.

Last week, environmental watchdogs announced they had found “massive coal ash pollution leaks” coming from Duke Energy’s Buck Steam Station near the city of Salisbury in central North Carolina. Their tests show the leakage contains health-threatening levels of toxic metals including arsenic, barium, cadmium, chromium, lead, and selenium. The pollution is contaminating the Yadkin River, which joins with the Uwharrie to become the Pee Dee; the Yadkin-Pee Dee is a drinking water source for communities in North and South Carolina.

How toxic is the pollution? The level of cancer-causing arsenic found in the leakage was triple the legal limit, and the level of neurotoxic barium was 6,000 times the health protection standard.

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