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Harmful compound found in N.C. water may be naturally occuring, study finds

A study released last Wednesday by researchers at Duke University found one of the chemical compounds found in wells contaminated by coal ash can be found in water unrelated to the coal ash spill.

Last year, the carcinogenic compound Hexavalent Chromium was found in private wells, and was suspected of coming from the ash from Duke Energy’s nearby power plants. But the study found contamination from the compound occurred in high levels regardless of distance from coal ash ponds.

Avner Vengosh, a professor of earth and ocean sciences at Duke University and author of the study, said the researchers examined sites contaminated by coal ash in Georgia, Tennessee, North Carolina and Virginia.

"In all the cases we saw evidence for leaking of the coal ash ponds into groundwater, into surface water," Vengosh said.

It also found that the geochemical characteristics of groundwater with high Hexavalent Chromium levels are different from that of the well water contaminated by coal ash.

Katie Hicks, associate director of Clean Water for North Carolina, said the study's scope was limited in looking at only one contaminant.

"It’s a limited scope and for Duke Energy to jump to using this as a defense that they haven’t had anything to do with anyone’s health is just indicative of a greater issue with trying to avoid accountability to neighbors for very real concerns about coal ash,” she said.

She said Duke Energy should not use this one study as a defense for the coal ash scandal, and other studies have linked coal ash with harmful contaminants. 

“Duke Energy has really been promoting this paper and this study as proof that they are innocent of contaminating wells and that's absolutely not true," Hicks said. 

Nick Torrey, an attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center, said the study only identified a new problem.

“One thing that Professor Vengosh has emphasized in talking about this study that we feel is really important as well is that he’s identified a new problem with other residential wells but there is ongoing problems with Duke energy’s coal ash pollution of the ground water, river water, lake water around all these sites that belongs to all of us,” he said.

He said it is still important for the coal ash contamination to be addressed.

“We just want to emphasize the importance of cleaning up these sites and stopping the ongoing pollution, because Duke energy does not have the right to contaminate water resources for everybody...” he said.


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