Duke to discuss coal ash woes in SC

sfretwell@thestate.comMarch 22, 2014 

Pasture land near Duke Energy's coal fired power plant in Anderson County, where an ash dam is seeping water.

SAMMY FRETWELL — SFRETWELL@THESTATE.COM

— Reports linking Duke Energy to more contamination at an Upstate power plant surfaced late last week as the company and environmental groups prepared for a meeting with South Carolina regulators Monday to discuss Duke’s troubles managing toxic coal ash ponds.

In 2006, researchers discovered elevated levels of arsenic in the ground at the company’s Lee steam station in Anderson County, according to a study released Friday by environmentalists.

Some of the arsenic levels exceeded federal safety limits for residential and industrial land, according to the report obtained by the Southern Environmental Law Center from the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control.

The report also showed evidence of chromium pollution in the ground. The contamination was found near a disposal area uphill from the Saluda River, said Frank Holleman, a law center attorney.

Signs of arsenic and chromium pollution follow a report detailed by The State newspaper last month showing that groundwater near existing company coal ash ponds contained iron and manganese pollution. The stability of dams holding back water in the ash ponds has been the main concern outlined in consulting reports at the Lee power plant site, The State newspaper reported.

Duke’s coal ponds in Anderson County are just a short distance from the Saluda, a lengthy river that starts in the mountains and ends just below Lake Murray in Columbia. The river is popular with anglers and is a drinking water source for some communities.

Depending on the type and the amounts of exposure, arsenic and chromium can be hazardous to people who ingest the toxins. Both are tied to stomach disorders and cancer.

While debate continues about whether Duke should clean out existing ponds to protect the Saluda and groundwater, the issue has been overshadowed by the company’s mammoth problems in North Carolina.

Duke, which serves portions of both states, is under criminal investigation following a coal ash spill on the Dan River near the Virginia border in February. Duke has, so far, been reluctant to clean out ash ponds at 14 power plant sites it owns in that state. Environmentalists have accused N.C. regulators of being too cozy with Duke. Duke has denied the allegations.

But Holleman, a Greenville lawyer, said the arsenic and chromium contamination his group found in the consulting report add further concerns about Duke’s operations in South Carolina.

Consultants “found arsenic in the soil coming from coal,” Holleman said. “It’s another example of concern.”

Duke officials did not respond to Holleman’s findings late Friday, but said they look forward to meeting Monday with the S.C. Public Service Commission.

Duke asked to meet with the PSC in Columbia to answer any questions the regulatory board might have, a company spokesman said Friday.

The PSC oversees rate increases for investor-owned power companies, but Holleman said it could put some pressure on Duke to clean up coal ash ponds in South Carolina. Holleman, whose organization sued Duke in North Carolina over coal ash pond pollution, also will speak at Monday’s PSC session.

“Duke Energy requested the opportunity to give the commissioners the latest and best information not only on our ongoing activities in North Carolina, but specifically inform them about our coal ash facilities in South Carolina and answer any questions they might have on the topic,” Duke spokesman Ryan Mosier said in an email to The State newspaper.

In addition to coal ash ponds in Anderson County near the town of Williamston, Duke has a coal pond in Darlington County near the site of a closed coal-fired power plant outside Hartsville.

Reach Fretwell at (803) 771-8537.

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