North Carolina officials concluded coal ash from a Duke Energy Corp. power plant didn’t pollute a nearby river after Hurricane Florence, contradicting earlier findings from environmentalists.
Water samples taken near Duke’s Sutton power plant site in Wilmington show “all metals below state water quality standards,” the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality said Thursday. On Wednesday, the environmental group Waterkeeper Alliance said its test showed arsenic levels in the Cape Fear River were more than 70 times above the state’s drinking-water standard.
“We are pleased that the state’s test results align well with the extensive water sampling Duke Energy continues to perform, demonstrating that Cape Fear River quality is not harmed by Sutton plant operations,” Duke spokeswoman Paige Sheehan said in an email.
The state did find slightly elevated levels of copper in the river, but a Department of Environmental Quality spokeswoman said they didn’t pose a public health threat.
Waterkeeper didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
This is the second time since Florence that environmentalists and North Carolina regulators have been at odds over whether coal ash from Duke sites has fouled waterways.
Last week, Waterkeeper Alliance said test results showed water in the Neuse River near a retired Duke coal plant had arsenic levels almost 18 times above state drinking water standard. Days later, state officials said there was no sign of significant pollution.
After Florence made landfall Sept. 14 and caused widespread flooding, Duke acknowledged that material from its Sutton site spilled into the Cape Fear River but said tests showed the discharges “are not harming water quality.”
Coal ash, a byproduct from burning the fuel in power plants, can carry arsenic, mercury, lead and selenium. Its overall toxicity has long been debated.
North Carolina was the site of a major coal ash spill in 2014, when some 39,000 tons of coal ash escaped from a burst drainage pipe at a Duke Energy pond in Eden, North Carolina, sending the slurry into the Dan River and causing visible gray water in a nearby reservoir within days.