coal ash contamination

The battle of the Dukes: Better science vs ambiguous results

When solving the mystery of coal ash contamination is not a priority:

Prominent Duke University water-quality researcher Avner Vengosh and several colleagues developed a “forensic tracer” test last year that promises to identify with great accuracy whether coal ash is the culprit in individual cases of water pollution. “The isotopic signature of boron coming from coal ash is always different from naturally occurring boron or boron from other sources,” added Laura Ruhl, Vengosh’s partner in the research and a professor of earth sciences at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

Drew Elliot, DENR’s communications director, said agency officials would welcome more and better testing tools, but they are under “aggressive deadlines” set by North Carolina’s new coal ash law. They can’t meet those deadlines if they detour to add a new series of tests, he said. The state’s preferred methodology for deciding whether coal ash is causing water pollution is to look for obvious, chemical clues in the well samples, he said.

And that "preferred methodology" is ineffective. Ignoring the isotopic signature of the contaminant is like ignoring fingerprints at a crime scene. It only makes sense if you're trying to protect the perpetrator.

Coal Ash Wednesday: Don't drink the water

coalash.jpg

There goes the neighborhood:

Most of the private wells tested near Duke Energy’s North Carolina coal ash ponds show contaminants above state groundwater standards, state regulators said Tuesday.

Of 117 test results mailed to power plant neighbors in recent days, 87 exceeded groundwater standards, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources said.

And every one of those neighbors needs to be compensated and/or have potable water made available to them by Duke Energy, at no cost to the homeowners, the state, or other Duke Energy ratepayers. You break it, you buy it. But as long as DENR continues to run interference for Duke Energy, people are going to suffer:

Permitting illegal pollution: Duke Energy's hypocrisy on coal ash

If it's too expensive to fix, then subvert the system:

The permits, which are renewed every five years, would allow Duke Energy to identify 23 previously illegal coal ash leaks at three area power plants — Riverbend Steam Station on Mountain Island Lake, Marshall Steam Station on Lake Norman and Allen Steam Station on Lake Wylie — and include them in discharge permits instead of stopping the seeps.

As is usual in cases where Duke Energy finds itself on the wrong side of safety and health laws and regulations, reality is what you say it is. What was once illegal is now legal, thanks to a few squiggles jotted on a piece of paper by someone who isn't a lawmaker. Isn't that handy?

Coal Ash Wednesday: Duke shareholders finally getting angry

coalash.jpg

Taking their own company to court:

The plaintiff in the case, a Duke investor in Philadelphia named Judy Mesirov and her law firm Rigrodsky & Long of New York, asked for the complaint to be sealed because it includes confidential material the utility provided to them during discussions before the suit was filed, says Duke spokesman Dave Scanzoni.

In public documents from the suit, Mesirov accuses current and former board members and some Duke executives of wasting corporate assets and exposing the company to billions of dollars in liability over environmental problems they created. It says they “consciously and routinely endangered the lives and health of the public, wildlife and vegetation by exposing them to carcinogens and by polluting North Carolina’s and Virginia’s environment.”

Yes, they did. But I do find myself wondering: If Duke's management team had acted proactively, spending the tens of millions it would have taken to build proper (lined) coal ash containment ponds and other approaches to stop leaking from occurring, would the shareholders have punished them for cutting into dividends? Not defending Duke Energy per se, but major stockholders in publicly-traded corporations are notorious for only being concerned with quarterly profits and not the long-term health of the company. I'm sure there are some exceptions, but not nearly as many as our (overall) economy needs.

Coal Ash Wednesday: Duke fined $25 million for Sutton leaks

Apparently DENR does still have some teeth:

The agency fined the utility $25.1 million for several years of leaking coal ash that polluted groundwater around the Sutton plant. The penalty also includes the state’s investigative costs. The state also hinted yesterday that more fines for groundwater violations at other Duke power plants could be coming.

The penalty dwarfed the previous record $5.6 million fine that the state issued in 1986 against Texasgulf Chemicals, now PCS Phosphate, for air emission violations at its phosphate mine and fertilizer plant on the Pamlico River in Beaufort County.

It's probably a sign I've been doing this political blogging thing too long, but the first thought that percolated from my brain was, "There's more than one way to make up your budget shortfalls." Where will that $25 million go? In a civil suit settlement, the judge often points a finger in the direction the money should be spent, but this is different. I'll see what I can find out.

McCrory picks MBA to lead EMC

Not unlike asking your lawyer what that lump on your back is:

Gerard Carroll, a former senior vice president at National Gypsum in Charlotte, will replace Benne Hutson as chair of the Environmental Management Commission. The 15-member commission makes rules for North Carolina’s air and water resources. Hutson, a Charlotte lawyer, resigned in January. He cited the time demands of chairing the EMC.

Carroll, who is known as Jerry, worked at National Gypsum for more than 22 years. He’s an Air Force veteran who completed 222 combat missions in Vietnam and earned a masters of business administration from Harvard.

From a lawyer to a business administrator. Not sure if that's a step forward, backward, or simply a step off (the cliff). Whatever the case, neither are even remotely qualified to Chair the Environmental Management Commission. Unless they're planning some bombing sorties to degrade the capabilities of fecal bacteria swimming towards Raleigh. That being said, Caroll's promotion may not be just another random act of idiocy by McCrory. National Gypsum is a big player in the reuse of coal ash residuals, and their wallboard contains some of the nastiest elements of such:

Coal Ash Wednesday: Arsenic and hog waste choking the Neuse

The Riverkeeper details the damage:

Every hour of every day, the coal ash pits on the bank of the Neuse River are illegally leaking dangerous contamination into the surrounding ground and surface water. In fact, one of the criminal charges against Duke Energy was for “negligently” constructing one of these creek-like discharges that continues to flow into the Neuse from the ash pits at this dump. The Lee site has the highest levels of arsenic contamination of all Duke’s ash dumps in North Carolina.

But yet another continuous source of pollution looms on the banks and tributaries of the Neuse: industrial hog operations, most of which are controlled by foreign corporate interests. Over 500 of the 2,000 industrial hog factories in North Carolina call the Neuse River Basin home. The 10 million hogs that live in our state produce roughly as much waste as 100 million people.

Much like coal ash, hog waste contamination has been a huge problem for decades. We haven't done nearly enough to abate the problem, but it looks like the new "business-friendly" administration of Skvarla and McCrory has dropped the ball entirely:

For Duke Energy, everything is negotiable

Even their "punishment" for crimes committed:

Federal prosecutors have filed criminal charges against Duke Energy, the nation’s largest electric utility, accusing the company of violating the federal Clean Water Act by illegally dumping millions of gallons of toxic coal ash into the Dan River in North Carolina. They also accused the company of failing to maintain equipment around at least two plants.

Duke said Friday that it had already negotiated a plea agreement under which it expected to pay fines.

And in true cart-before-the-horse fashion, the fines just happen to be slightly larger than the dollar figure Duke decided it was prepared to pay...when? A few months ago? If this investigation and the charges that resulted are supposed to make us feel better about how justice is rendered in this country, it's a big, fat failure.

Coal Ash Wednesday: The deadly ingredients

Thanks to Physicians for Social Responsibility for outlining the harms:

Arsenic: It has long been known that arsenic, if ingested in very high levels, is deadly. However, lower levels of exposure are also harmful and can cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea; anemia and decreased production of the white, infection-fighting blood cells; abnormal heart rhythms; blood vessel damage; numbness in the hands and feet; partial paralysis; and decreased vision, even blindness. Repeated low levels of exposure over an extended period of time can produce effects similar to a one-time high level of exposure, and chronic exposure to low levels can cause skin cancer. Arsenic has also been linked to cancers of the lung, bladder, kidney, liver and prostate.

Contaminated drinking water is a primary route of arsenic exposure. Exposure from birth may increase urinary cancer risk much later in life, suggesting that people whose drinking water is contaminated by arsenic from coal ash should be monitored long-term for this cancer, even if they stop drinking the contaminated water.

I know a lot of environmental advocates who are energetic as all get-out, but lacking somewhat in the details. Energy is important, but you need some basic factual tools at your disposal if you want to persuade others the danger is real. Understanding the toxics involved and their deleterious effect on our health is likely the best tool you could wield in that effort:

Pages

Subscribe to RSS - coal ash contamination