Connect with us

Hi, what are you looking for?



NC Suspects Duke Energy Coal Ash In Water Well Poisoning

The North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources has just warned people living in Dukeville, North Carolina, and a local church, not to drink or cook with their well water. Toxic heavy metals have contaminated it, as reported by the Associated Press. Each well location is within a quarter mile of a coal ash pond owned by Duke Energy, the nation’s largest electric company. Duke stores more than 150 million tons of coal ash in 32 dumps at 14 power plants in North Carolina alone.

A Duke Energy coal ash lagoon in NC, closed in 2012 (

A Duke Energy coal ash lagoon in NC, closed in 2012 (

Last year, in a huge accident, the storage pond at Dukeville spilled 82,000 tons of coal ash into the Dan River. In response to the emergency, DNER tested private drinking water wells near this and other Duke-owned coal ash dumps. The tests revealed that heavy metals had contaminated 87 private drinking water wells near eight Duke plants across the state. Although vanadium is the contaminant of concern here, unusual levels of other heavy metals have also been found, including mercury, manganese, arsenic, antimony, and other contaminants from coal ash.

However, Duke denies that any dangerous pollutants have come from its leaky coal ash ponds. Company spokesperson Erin Culbert told ThinkProgress that boron and sulfates—“key indicators of groundwater potentially impacted by coal ash, because they migrate more quickly than other trace elements”—were not found at any of the sites. “Based on the state’s test results we’ve reviewed thus far, we have no indication that Duke Energy plant operations have influenced neighbors’ well water,” she said.

The nonprofit Waterkeeper Alliance said boron and sulfates might not have been discovered if the coal Duke burned at the plant had been low in those elements. Said Pete Harrison, a staff attorney at the nonprofit:

“They’re ignoring what is there in the water and just pointing out what isn’t. I think it’s kind of a non-sequitur argument they’re trying to make.”

The AP reports that some of the notifications sent by DNER to Dukeville residents said that their water had high levels of vanadium, a naturally occurring element that has mixed medical effects. It may be useful in treating diabetics, although it is also a probable carcinogen. Vanadium in high levels is often found in coal ash.

Ironically, the element that can poison as well as medicate humans also enables very low-cost, high-capacity storage of electric energy. Vanadium flow batteries are a natural for storing solar and wind power and have recently fallen in cost.

Many of the DENR letters recommended resampling the well water in one month because the labs could not reliably measure vanadium toxicity levels below 25 ppb. Although there isn’t any federal drinking water standard for vanadium, the state has one and just updated it to 0.3 ppb from 18 parts per billion this year. At least six of the wells contained vanadium at a level higher than than 0.3.

One measured 25 ppb—75 times the maximum. That well serves James and Levene Mahaley, who have lived near the coal ash pond since 1954. AP reports that Duke Energy officials came to the Mahaley home in November, offered them shipments of bottled water, and warned them not to tell anyone about it. Yadkin Riverkeeper’s Will Scott, the lead advocate for the Dukeville watershed, said Duke also gave the Mahaleys information about the negative health impacts of vanadium, which mostly concern respiratory problems. He added:

“Duke [knew] that these people had high levels of vanadium. But they’ve still been sending out letters to the community saying everything’s fine.”

Duke Energy said that the Mahaley home had the only well in Dukeville that exceeded the older standard and that it was “not aware of any expectation that the Mahaleys keep that information private.” Duke has reportedly promised to use its own revenues to pay for any additional sampling that needs to be done.

The Waterkeeper Alliance is not satisfied with Duke’s overall response. Harrison has issued this statement:

“Our task now is to continue to investigate the connection through the groundwater between these ash ponds and these people’s wells. We know these ponds are leaking, but its much more difficult to prove where these contaminants are coming from because it’s all deep in the ground.”

Sign up for daily news updates from CleanTechnica on email. Or follow us on Google News!

Have a tip for CleanTechnica, want to advertise, or want to suggest a guest for our CleanTech Talk podcast? Contact us here.

Former Tesla Battery Expert Leading Lyten Into New Lithium-Sulfur Battery Era — Podcast:

I don't like paywalls. You don't like paywalls. Who likes paywalls? Here at CleanTechnica, we implemented a limited paywall for a while, but it always felt wrong — and it was always tough to decide what we should put behind there. In theory, your most exclusive and best content goes behind a paywall. But then fewer people read it! We just don't like paywalls, and so we've decided to ditch ours. Unfortunately, the media business is still a tough, cut-throat business with tiny margins. It's a never-ending Olympic challenge to stay above water or even perhaps — gasp — grow. So ...
If you like what we do and want to support us, please chip in a bit monthly via PayPal or Patreon to help our team do what we do! Thank you!
Written By

covers environmental, health, renewable and conventional energy, and climate change news. She's currently on the climate beat for Important Media, having attended last year's COP20 in Lima Peru. Sandy has also worked for groundbreaking environmental consultants and a Fortune 100 health care firm. She writes for several weblogs and attributes her modest success to an "indelible habit of poking around to satisfy my own curiosity."


You May Also Like

Clean Power

By addressing equity issues, RMI’s Solarize cohorts have made rooftop solar and lower electricity bills available to more people around the country. Shaketia Simpson...

Clean Power

A rate modification for solar customers in North Carolina was recently approved by the North Carolina Utilities Commission (NCUC). This has an impact on...


USMC Base Camp Lejeune has become a national solar energy and energy storage showcase featuring new LFP battery technology.

Clean Power

First-in-the-region order sets new bar for solar and storage incentives in the Southeast RALEIGH, N.C. — On Thursday, the North Carolina Utilities Commission (NCUC)...

Copyright © 2023 CleanTechnica. The content produced by this site is for entertainment purposes only. Opinions and comments published on this site may not be sanctioned by and do not necessarily represent the views of CleanTechnica, its owners, sponsors, affiliates, or subsidiaries.