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DEQ gives legislative update on coal ash cleanup

Today, DEQ Assistant Secretary for the Environment Tom Reeder addressed the State Legislature’s Environmental Review Commission to update legislators on the status of coal ash cleanup in North Carolina.

The presentation included overviews of ongoing dry ash excavation operations; beneficial use of coal ash rulemaking; groundwater comprehensive site assessments and corrective action plans; survey of private and public water supply wells; decanting/dewatering, seeps, and permitting; enforcement activities; and draft classifications.

Excavation of coal ash began just eight months after the coal ash law was enacted and is now underway at five Duke Energy facilities including: Riverbend, Dan River, Sutton, Asheville, and Roger’s (Cliffside). To date, more than 4.3 million tons of coal ash has been excavated and removed to safe storage or beneficial reuse projects.

In accordance with the coal ash law, DEQ tested all private and public water supply wells within 1,500 of each coal ash impoundment for coal ash constituents. Out of the 476 wells sampled, 424 well owners (89%) received a “do not drink” health risk evaluation from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). Out of the 424 DHHS “do not drink” recommendations, 369 (87%) were due to vanadium and/or hexavalent chromium. Out of all the water supply wells sampled, only 12 wells exceeded the federal Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) levels, which are the levels used by the federal government to regulate of all city water supplies in the U.S. Of the 12 wells that contained SDWA exceedances, seven were for lead and five for arsenic. Typically, lead exceedances are due to poor well construction. Arsenic exceedances could be naturally occurring or an indicator of coal ash contamination; a final determination has not been made in these instances.

Assistant Secretary Reeder also provided an overview of DHHS’s hexavalent chromium and vanadium health screening levels. While both contaminants can be naturally occurring in North Carolina groundwater, DHHS uses levels of .07 parts per billion (ppb) for hexavalent chromium and 0.3 ppb for vanadium for its “do not drink” recommendations. In comparison, California and North Carolina share the lowest groundwater standard for hexavalent chromium in the country at 10 ppb. Only 8 states in the U.S. have groundwater standards for vanadium, and the federal government does not require city water supplies to monitor for vanadium.

More than 70% of public water systems in the United States that have sampled for hexavalent chromium and vanadium would exceed the DHHS screening levels. Assistant Secretary Reeder emphasized the well water that received “do not drink” recommendations from DHHS is likely to contain similar levels of hexavalent chromium and vanadium as most North Carolina city water.

The presentation also included an overview of decanting and dewatering activities, as well as a summary of the draft coal ash impoundment classification process. New information submitted to DEQ by Duke Energy has resulted in the addition of a small coal ash impoundment at the Roxboro facility in Person County, which increases the total number of coal ash impoundments in North Carolina to 33.

The presentation detailed the various enforcement activities DEQ has pursued in the wake of the 2014 spill at Dan River. DEQ issued Notice of Violations (NOVs) to Duke Energy for groundwater exceedences at two of its facilities and later assessed a $25.1 million fine, which Duke Energy immediately challenged in court. Assistant Secretary Reeder pointed out a memo enacted by the Perdue Administration that was the linchpin of Duke Energy’s case. Contextual e-mails made it clear that the intent of memo was to absolve Duke from NOVs and civil penalties associated with groundwater contamination at its coal ash facilities as long as the utility agreed to eventually remediate the problem. The 2011 memo was the reason the North Carolina Attorney General’s Office told DEQ it had no choice but to settle. Duke Energy settled the case for $7 million plus accelerated remediation at four of its coal ash facilities.

In the coming months, DEQ expects to receive from Duke Energy all the information it needs to make final determinations on when each coal ash impoundment should be closed. DEQ will finalize its proposed classificiations upon conclusion of the robust public participation process during which the agency will hold 14 public meetings and receive written comments.

DEQ is also waiting on additional groundwater data from Duke Energy to determine whether its coal ash ponds are impacting any nearby public or private drinking water supplies. If DEQ determines that groundwater standards in a well have been exceeded and that a coal ash pond is the source of that exceedance, Duke Energy will be required to provide the residents with an alternative water supply.

You may view the PowerPoint presentation here.
You may watch a video of Reeder’s full presentation here.

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Coal Ash Press Releases and Advisories

June 5, 2015 NCDENR Press Release - State issues permits for coal ash reuse projects.

June 2, 2015 - State cites companies with permit violations at proposed coal ash reuse project site

May 29, 2015 - State investigating possible environmental violations at proposed coal ash reuse site

May 15, 2015 - Stormwater permits issued today represent critical step to close coal ash ponds

April 21, 2015 - Most results from drinking well tests show exceedences of state groundwater standards near coal ash ponds

April 15, 2015 - Residents near coal ash ponds to receive results of drinking water well tests, health evaluations

April 10, 2015 - State environmental agency to host public hearings on coal ash reuse projects

April 6, 2015 - MEDIA ADVISORY: Public hearing on draft environmental permits near coal ash ponds

March 23, 2015 - State environmental agency opens public comment period on coal ash reuse permits

March 12, 2015 - Public comment period starts on proposed stream and wetlands impacts for coal ash reuse projects

March 10, 2015 - State fines Duke Energy Progress a record $25.1 million for coal ash contamination at Sutton Plant

March 6, 2015 - State agency drafts permits to better protect water quality near coal ash ponds until closure plans are approved

February 25, 2015 - State continues pursuit of coal ash contamination issues at Asheville Plant

January 30, 2015 - One year later, Dan River continues successful recovery

January 29, 2015 - MEDIA ADVISORY: DENR Secretary and staff to sample Dan River nearly one year after coal ash spill

December 19, 2014 - Expanding energy opportunities and cleaning up coal ash are among top 2014 news items for state agency

December 17, 2014 - Letters from state invite residents near Duke Energy coal ash impoundments to have water tested

December 11, 2014 - Regulators authorize repairs to dam structure at Duke Energy coal ash impoundment

November 26, 2014 - State receives permit applications for reuse of coal ash at two clay mines

November 24, 2014 - Insects in Dan River downstream of Feb. 2 coal ash spill appear to be thriving, state tests show

November 18, 2014 - State environmental committee to meet next week in Charlotte on rules for reusing coal ash

November 11, 2014 - CORREX: State's reclassification of cooling pond means more environmental protections, dam inspections

Novemeber 6, 2014 - State directs Duke Energy to resubmit groundwater plans for coal ash facilities

October 18, 2014 - Drinking water receptor survey shows wells near Duke Energy coal ash facilities

Sept. 30 - Duke Energy submits plans for groundwater assessment at coal ash facilities

Sept. 3 - State raises hazard classification at coal ash dams in Lumberton

Aug. 28, 2:42 p.m. - State environmental agency details actions on coal ash in letter to citizens group

Aug. 13, 12:04 p.m. - DENR requires Duke Energy to address coal ash issues

July 10 - State issues operating permit for first phase of coal ash landfill in Person County

June 26, 3:45 p.m. - State orders Duke Energy to address final set of pipe systems at coal ash facilities 
June 18, 11:53 a.m. - State orders utility to address more piping systems at coal ash dams 
June 16, 2:49 p.m. - State orders Duke Energy to submit repair plans for leaking pipes near coal ash facilities
Mar. 28, 3:00 p.m. - State regulators cite Duke Energy for dam deficiencies at Cape Fear plant
Mar. 25, 3:34 p.m. - Crack in earthen dam at Cape Fear power plant fixed, state reports
Mar. 21, 4:41 p.m. - State environmental agency, EPA to pursue joint approach to coal ash clean-up
Mar. 21, 3:34 p.m. - State environmental agency asks to withdraw from consent order with Duke Energy, maintains lawsuit
Mar. 21, 2:08 p.m. - DENR approves emergency response plan to address crack in earthen dam at coal ash impoundment
Mar. 20, 5:51 p.m. - State regulators responding to report of crack in earthen dam at Duke Energy facility   
Mar. 20, 1:39 p.m. - DENR taking action against Duke Energy for violations of wastewater permit at Cape Fear plant
Mar. 18, 3:57 p.m. - Testing of latest water quality samples near coal ash spill similar to earlier results
Mar. 14, 2:26 p.m. - State environmental agency takes action to address deficiencies at three coal ash facilities
Mar. 13, 4:19 p.m. - State environmental agency demands more answers from Duke Energy
Mar. 7, 4:01 p.m. - State regulators release water quality test results from additional Dan River spill location
Mar. 6, 3:29 p.m. - NCDENR's statement on today's ash pond ruling
Mar. 6, 2:36 p.m. - DENR cites Duke Energy for dam deficiencies, requests repair schedule
Mar. 5, 1:09 p.m. State regulators to request plans, video of pipes at coal ash facilities and announce inspections
Mar. 4, 3:58 p.m. - Dam safety inspection at Cliffside Plant; further monitoring results from the Dan River
Mar. 3, 12:25 p.m. - State issues notices of violation for five more Duke Energy plants
Feb. 28, 4:56 p.m. - State agency issues violation notices, enforcement recommendations to Duke Energy for coal ash spill
Feb. 28, 3:38 p.m. - DENR responding to discharge from pipe at Duke Energy power plant in Rutherford County
Feb. 27, 2:45 p.m. - Latest update on Dan River coal ash spill activities
Feb. 25, 2:51 p.m. - State environmental agency considers requiring Duke Energy to move coal ash from Dan river site
Feb. 24, 4:23 p.m. - State environmental officials start sampling fish tissue near Dan River coal ash spill site
Feb. 21, 4:13 p.m. - Aluminum and iron still exceed surface water quality standards near coal ash spill site
Feb. 18, 5:06 p.m. - DENR orders Duke Energy to halt discharges from second pipe under coal ash basin
Feb. 18, 12:44 p.m. - MEDIA ALERT: State environmental agency to hold briefing for news media 
Feb. 17, 5:25 p.m. - State environmental agency starts water quality sampling at John H. Kerr Reservoir
Feb. 14, 7:20 p.m. - State probing structural integrity of second pipe under Dan River coal ash pond 
Feb. 13, 4:40 p.m. - State environmental agency investigating wastewater discharge at site of coal ash spill
Feb. 12, 4:16 p.m. State releases additional water quality test results from Dan River coal ash spill
Feb. 11, 11:43 a.m. - State regulators outline action on coal ash ponds
Feb. 9, 2:24 p.m. - State regulators clarify reports on arsenic test results near coal ash spill
Feb. 7, 7:38 p.m. - DENR releases remaining test results from water quality sampling near coal ash spill
Feb. 6, 6:59 p.m. - State test results of water quality sampling near coal ash spill released
Feb. 6, 4:41 p.m. - Governor McCrory Directs Duke Energy to Bring Coal Ash Spill Under Control
Feb. 5, 6:23 p.m. - DENR expects water sampling results from river near coal ash spill this week
Feb. 4, 5:53 p.m. - DENR releases initial water test results from Duke Energy coal ash spill
Feb. 4, 9:04 a.m. - DENR Secretary Skvarla heading to Eden, as agency staff members work with Duke Energy to control coal ash spill
Feb. 3, 5:32 p.m. - DENR staff working with utility at site of Dan River spill in Rockingham County

N.C. DHHS Health Advisories for the Dan River

Feb. 12 Health Advisory



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