Fort Mill Times

Belmont wells test high for metals near coal ash station

There were 117 wells tested through April for contaminants near Allen Steam Station. Of the 68 wells with results back, all but two exceeded state water quality standards.

Iron, vanadium or pH levels ran high at 66 of 68 private well test sites. The state labeled 57 sites with “do not drink” evaluations. Most showed high levels of vanadium only, though some also had iron and chromium. The state recommended 45 retests.

North Carolina’s Department of Health and Human Services tested wells for health risks as part of coal ash management efforts from the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources. The first round opened testing to people with private or public wells within 1,000 feet of a coal ash pond.

“Each water sample is assessed on an individual basis and takes into account not just each individual contaminant, but the combination of contaminants, which can sometimes compound the potential health impact,” said Alexandra Lefebvre, health and human services spokesperson.

State staff are reaching out to well owners to provide phone consultations as needed.

“Our goal is to help residents make the most health protective choices for their families,” Lefebvre said.

Ash ponds are near coal power generating facilities, storing a byproduct of the generation process. More than 30 metals and inorganic substances are being tested near the state’s 32 ash ponds. Statewide, 303 wells were tested with results back for 163. Of the 163, 93 percent failed to meet water quality standards.

Duke Energy, the company that operates Allen Steam Station and other sites statewide, views the results thus far in a positive light. Spokeswoman Paige Sheehan said the company is encouraged by testing so far.

“In this case it’s about what we’re not seeing,” she said.

Duke’s stance is the elements found occur naturally, something the state results note is a possible cause. Were boron and sulfate detected, Sheehan said, there would be more concern for the impact from coal ash ponds.

“These elements are all naturally occurring,” she said. “We don’t believe they’re coming from coal ash.”

The company also notes the levels of metal detected in the recent tests would make the water safe to drink if it came from a public utility. Only coming from a well brings the concentrations beyond state standards, Sheehan said.

“That’s incredibly confusing to folks,” she said.

Duke is offering to bring in water for anyone told by the state that theirs is unsafe. That offer remains open as Duke conducts its own tests, which could take a few months. The company sent letters to well owners soon after the state did soliciting questions.

“We’re hearing from more folks every day in part because we’re reaching out to them ourselves,” Sheehan said.

John Marks •  803-831-8166