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High Levels of Coal Ash Contaminants Found in N.C. Waters

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Coal ashA Duke University-led study has found high levels of arsenic, selenium and other toxic elements in coal ash effluents and in North Carolina lakes and rivers located downstream from coal-fired power plants’ settling ponds.

Researchers collected and analyzed more than 300 water samples from 11 lakes and rivers for the study, which was published today in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Science & Technology.

“In several cases, we found contamination levels that far exceeded U.S. Environmental Protection Agency guidelines for safe drinking water and aquatic life,” said Avner Vengosh, professor of geochemistry and water quality at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment.  

Some of the highest levels were found in coal ash pond effluents flowing to Mountain Island Lake, a primary drinking water source for Charlotte, and also to the French Broad River in Asheville. Hyco and Mayo lakes, two popular recreation lakes in the northern part of the state were also found to have high contaminant levels in the lake water.

Concern about the environmental impacts of coal-fired power generation has led to tighter regulation of the industry in recent years, but most measures have focused on reducing plants’ emissions into the atmosphere under the Clean Air Act, Vengosh said.

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