YCMTSU: State “solves” drinking water problem around coal ash sites by weakening the rules

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Residents Across North Carolina Outraged by State’s Decision to Rescind Do-Not-Drink Orders:
ACT Against Coal Ash Demands Solutions for Contaminated Wells at DEQ Public Hearings

Across North Carolina, Duke Energy’s neighbors, many of whom have been living on bottled water for over 10 months, as well as Lee County residents are outraged by the state’s decision to rescind 235 do not drink orders. The flip-flop from state regulators came just two days before another round of DEQ’s public hearings on coal ash basin closure, adding to residents’ mistrust of Governor McCrory and the staff he appointed to run DEQ and DHHS.

Tonight, the Down East Coal Ash Coalition plans to make a big showing at DEQ’s public hearing for Duke Energy’s H.F. Lee plant in Goldsboro, N.C. Local resident, Johnnie Gurley is skeptical that DEQ will prioritize the public’s interest over Duke Energy’s profits. “First, a fine of $25 million for violations of the law at one site reduced to $7 million for all of them,” explains Gurley, “Then, just as we found out about a secret dinner between the Governor, DEQ leadership and Duke Energy Executives, coal ash sites that were classified as ‘’high priority” are now “low”, or “low-intermediate”. Now, suddenly, water we were told not to drink because it was contaminated is safe to drink. Either God worked a miracle or Governor McCrory is in Duke Energy’s pocket.”

Lee County residents who have been targeted to receive coal ash from Duke’s Riverbend plant outside of Charlotte will also be attending a DEQ public hearing tonight in Chatham County, for Duke’s Cape Fear plant. They share Duke’s neighbors concerns that the state’s decision will only benefit Duke Energy. Donna Strickland, a concerned Lee County resident wonders, “Is this change a means of setting a precedent which will absolve Duke Energy from any responsibility to the people living near existing coal ash sites with contamination in their wells? I have also noticed that Dr. Williams of DHHS has not made any apologies for issuing the Do Not Drink letters in Lee County, which caused great fright and expense to the 17 families who received them. I question, did Dr. Williams do the right thing at the time and now he has been encouraged to undo the right thing? To say that we have lost faith in DEQ and DHHS is putting it mildly.”

Debra Baker lives next to Duke Energy’s G.G. Allen Plant in Belmont. She was told almost a year ago that her water was unsafe to drink due to elevated levels of vanadium and hexavalent chromium. Baker’s well tested over 40 times higher than the state’s original health screening level for vanadium and 13 times higher than the screening level for hexavalent chromium. These levels were determined by expert epidemiologists and toxicologists within DEQ and DHHS using standard risk assessment methodologies, and represent the latest public health information about the risks of exposure to the metals.

“I absolutely do not feel safe,” says Baker, “Dr. Rudo, the state toxicologist has personally called me and told me not to drink my water. My well is surrounded by coal ash, so no, I don’t feel that it’s suddenly alright to drink my water just because DEQ and DHHS are suddenly rescinding their do not drink orders. This makes me very afraid for my son and myself. I feel like this decision is just another slap in the face from regulators who are supposed to be protecting us.”

Residents agree that DEQ and DHHS are not acting with science or public safety in mind. Members of ACT Against Coal Ash have noted that the state’s new standards do not take into account multiple contaminants in a single well, the effect that those contaminants could have on children’s health, or the fact that most wells next to coal ash tested many, many times higher than the municipal water Dr. Williams and DEQ’s claim is contaminated to the same extent as coal ash neighbors’ wells.

“More than once, Dr. Williams has talked about a family in Belmont whose well water he says is probably safer than his Raleigh tap water. That is a ridiculous lie,” explains Sarah Kellogg, NC Field Coordinator for Appalachian Voices, “I know that family, and they have vanadium in their well at 6.8 ppb and hexavalent chromium at 2.2 ppb. The EPA found that Raleigh’s water didn’t have any vanadium in it and hexavalent chromium was only 0.095 ppb! So, when residents hear Dr. Williams or Tom Reeder say that their water is as safe, they feel these regulators are insulting their intelligence.”

Leona Rice of Arden, who lives near the Asheville Steam Station, says, “After my husband got stomach cancer and we later got letters from the state saying our well was contaminated with hexavalent chromium, we knew that it had been going into our bodies. The NC DEQ and Duke Energy need to stand and be accountable and truthful about what it is doing to people. This whole situation makes me wonder if Duke Energy is paying off the state officials.”

“We just want someone to be on our side,” laments Baker, “to take care of our health. We just want to have clean, safe water.”

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