Even as power companies move away from using coal-fired plants to produce electricity, those companies are still maintaining coal ash ponds as a way of storing the waste product. The bad news for those in the Carolinas is that 24 of Duke Energy’s 26 coal ash basins in those states violate federal rules for disposal of the product, according to a report by Utility Dive.
The report cites filings from Duke that were released Nov. 7, with outside engineers finding that “nearly all the basins did not meet the provisions of one or more CCR (Coal Combustion Residuals) requirements, including locational restrictions, wetlands requirements and seismic impact zone requirements.”
The two basins that had no issues already have been excavated. The 24 remaining ponds also violated a portion of the federal regulations that “requires the bottom of a coal ash storage unit be at least five feet ‘above the upper limit of the uppermost aquifer’ and disallows any hydraulic connection between the base of the unit and the aquifer,” per the report.
The concern stems from having the ponds potentially seeping into and contaminating groundwater. Coal ash contains materials such as mercury and lead, which are known to cause health problems in humans.
“Those filings confirm not only is the coal ash too close, but it’s connected to the groundwater, which of course means its pollutants [are] making it into the groundwater at every site,” said Southern Environmental Law Center senior attorney Frank Holleman, per the Utility Dive report. “Now we have on the record, in writing, official confirmation by Duke Energy’s own engineers that Duke Energy has been violating the minimum national standards set out in the coal combustion rules everywhere it stores coal ash in North Carolina, except where it has completely removed ash from the pits.”
While Duke is required by state law to cap or excavate all of its ponds by no later than 2029, the concern will linger, especially when Duke still has seven North Carolina coal plants currently in use. The energy provider has plans to close them during the next 30 years, but as coal continues to be burned to produce energy, coal ash will continue to be produced and must be dealt with. And as we saw with Hurricane Florence, ponds can be breached by flooding.
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