Battle for the Broad: Agency Allows Ash to Contaminate Drinking Water Source

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North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is so ineffective that the feds are considering taking over the agency.

The EPA recently warned North Carolina’s DEQ that it could lose its authority to regulate air and water pollution because it may not be meeting minimum federal requirements for protecting public health.

But that warning hasn’t stopped DEQ from issuing coal ash classifications that allow a beloved river to be poisoned.

DEQ issued a low priority classification for the Cliffside coal ash site along the North Carolina/South Carolina border, which allows toxic ash to continue poisoning the Broad River. The Broad River is a drinking water source for Shelby, N.C., and Gaffney, S.C., and a popular fishing and paddling river.

Testing has shown that high levels of arsenic, chromium, thallium, and other heavy metals and toxins from the Cliffside coal ash pits are contaminating drinking water and flowing into the Broad River.

A classification of high or even intermediate priority would require Duke Energy to excavate the sites, while a low rating means coal ash will be left on the banks of the Broad river to pollute a public drinking water source in perpetuity.

“We know there are toxic chemicals in these ash ponds, and we know that they’re spilling into the Broad River and seeping into our drinking water,” says David Caldwell coordinator of the Broad River Alliance. “We are asking DEQ to have the ash ponds permanently removed.”

All three Cliffside coal ash ponds pollute the groundwater with high levels of toxic metals, including arsenic at over 468 times the state’s safety standard, vanadium at 690 times the standard, hexavalent chromium at 185 times the standard and cobalt at 119 times the standard.

Arsenic poisoning can lead to heart disease, cancer, stroke, chronic lower respiratory diseases and diabetes. Cobalt has been linked to cardiovascular disease, gastrointestinal disorders, blood poisoning, liver injury and thyroid problems. Chromium is a carcinogen and hexavalent chromium was the subject of the movie Erin Brockovich, which was based on the true story of groundwater contamination in Hinkley, California by Pacific Gas Electric Company.

Want to help protect the Broad River? Attend one of two DEQ public hearings on the Cliffside plants scheduled for March 14:

Cleveland County Hearing on Cliffside Coal Ash Classification
Monday March 14 at 6:00 PM
114 E. College Ave, Shelby, NC 28152

Rutherford County Hearing on Cliffside Coal Ash Classification
Monday March 14 at 6:00 PM
Isothermal Community College Auditorium, 286 ICC Loop Rd, Spindale, NC 28160

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