North Carolina

November 22, 2013

Major cleanup planned by state power company

Source: The State (SC), November 20, 2013
Posted on:

South Carolina’s state-owned electrical utility plans to clean up 11 million tons of contaminated coal ash from three power plants and close most of its remaining coal waste ponds in a decision that’s expected to reduce the threat of pollution leaking into rivers and groundwater.

Santee Cooper’s decision, announced the same day it settled two major lawsuits with environmental groups, comes at a time of rising criticism nationally and regionally about the impact coal-fired power plants have on the environment. Not only are greenhouse gases from coal plants major contributors to climate change, but unlined waste ponds often contain toxic materials, such as arsenic, that seep into the water table or ooze into rivers.

Tuesday’s decision is of particular significance in South Carolina because it marks a change in position by Santee Cooper on the future of its coastal-plain ash ponds. The company had been hesitant to embrace a full-scale cleanup of the ponds. In at least one instance, Santee Cooper spent time and money in court fighting environmentalists over how to contain coal ash pollution along the scenic Waccamaw River west of Myrtle Beach.

Now, all of the company’s remaining fly ash ponds will be cleaned out and closed over the next 10 to 15 years, with the material being sent to landfills for burial or for recycling into cement or other “beneficial use” products, the company said Tuesday. Some of the material will be recycled at a new $40 million plant announced Tuesday for Georgetown County.…

November 13, 2013

Contamination lawsuits push Duke Energy, N.C., to address pollution

Source: Winston-Salem Journal (NC), November 3, 2013
Posted on:

Look no further than the Carolina coast to see what kind of damage a coal-fired power plant can do to underground sources of drinking water.

Massive groundwater contamination is rendering unusable the private wells of about 400 people in a Wilmington-area community known as Flemington. A potentially toxic plume of arsenic and other chemicals is leaking underground from a dump site at the Sutton Power Plant owned by Duke Energy, and it is heading toward those wells.

A corporate mea culpa of sorts is on its way, too.

Erin Culbert, a Duke Energy spokeswoman, confirmed last week that tests from groundwater wells at the power plant showed that contaminated groundwater was moving toward the Flemington community, about a half-mile away.

So Duke Energy has agreed to pay most of a $2.25 million project to run public water lines to Flemington, the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority announced Oct. 9.

Duke agreed to “proactively invest more than $1.5 million to prevent a potential issue,” Culbert said. Any possible costs between $1.5 million and $2.25 would be split evenly between Duke and the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority, according to Mike McGill, a spokesman for the authority.

Environmental groups saw the threat of contamination for years.…

October 22, 2013

Environmental concerns persist at Belews Creek plant

Source:, October 20, 2013
By: Winston-Salem Journal

On her way to school, Annie Brown climbed the steep hills that now stand anonymously below the surface of Belews Lake, a man-made body of water in Stokes County with 88 miles of shoreline.

Brown, 63, saw Duke Energy build the earthen dam in the early 1970s that impounds the water now capping those steep hills. The lake is used as a cooling reservoir for the coal-fired Belews Creek Steam Station. Now the company’s second-largest power plant in the Carolinas, it can generate up to 2,220 megawatts, enough to bring power to nearly 1.8 million average homes at full load.

The power plant has been a mixed blessing, in Brown’s view.

She watched her husband get a job at the power plant as a groundskeeper right when it opened; he worked there for 31 years before retiring. The plant now employs 160 Duke Energy workers — 220 people if you include supplemental contract employees, company officials say. But when Duke Energy started feeding coal to its massive turbines in the 1970s, Brown also saw soot in the mornings, ashy remnants puffed out of the smokestacks.

“It was on top of the cars. It was on the roofs,” Brown said.

The image has stuck with her all these years, so much so that when Brown moved into her house about 10 years ago, she wanted a black roof. She didn’t want a light-colored roof, even though the specter of falling ash had gone away, because light roofs used to turn dark from the ash.

Another thing that won’t go away is Brown’s physical ailment, the loss of full control of one of her hands.…

October 9, 2013

Duke researchers publish new paper on gas-drilling waste

Source: The Herald-Sun (Durham, NC), October 6, 2013
Posted on:

Duke University researchers say they’ve documented elevated levels of a radioactive element where a western Pennsylvania waste plant discharged treated water previously used in natural-gas drilling.

Published Wednesday in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, the findings came from a team led by Nicholas School of the Environment professors Avner Vengosh and Rob Jackson.

The key finding, of elevated levels of radium in streambed sediments just below the plant’s discharge point, came even though it was clear that the treated water leaving the plant met the industrial discharge limit for radioactivity, the paper said.

The effluent nonetheless has a “significant impact” on the sediments. To wit, “most of the radium appears to be absorbed and retained in them” instead of flowing downstream, the paper said.

And the resulting concentrations are high enough that if the sediments themselves were treated, regulations “would require you to take them a licensed radioactive-waste facility,” Jackson said.

The team also found that the plant’s discharge appeared to contribute to elevated levels of salts in the stream’s water downstream of the facility, despite the diluting effect of the stream’s much larger flow.…

September 26, 2013

Smithfield Foods responds to lawsuit over pollution

Source: Star-News (Wilmington, NC), September 24, 2013
Posted on:

Smithfield Foods and its subsidiary Murphy-Brown have responded to the nearly 1,000 Eastern North Carolina residents that have sued or planned to sue the companies and other individual farmers over foul smell and pollution from farms, saying the lawyers that have signed them up for the challenge acted unethically in doing so.

Mark Anderson, trial counsel for Smithfield Foods and Murphy Brown LLC, called it a “serious matter related to ethics which is of great concern to the individual farmers as well as my clients.”

He declined further comment, saying, “Given that the matter is now before the court, I don’t feel that further comment would be appropriate at this time.”

The out-of-state plaintiffs’ attorneys, the Middleton Law Firm LLC, of Savannah, Ga., and the Speer Law Firm, P.A., of Kansas City, Mo., could not be reached for comment despite repeated attempts. The listed attorneys are affiliated with the group called the Center to Expose and Close Factory Farms. The lawsuits claim stench and pollution have robbed residents of their ability to fully enjoy their properties.

The motion filed in the Wake County Superior Court by Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest pork producer, claims the plaintiffs’ lawyers inappropriately shopped for clients, signed up deceased clients, and are using unethical contracts with clients that penalize residents who decide to drop out of the lawsuit.…

August 14, 2013

NC four years behind on Clean Water Act rules

Source: The News & Observer (Raleigh, NC), August 11, 2013
Posted on:

Once an innovative leader in water quality science, North Carolina has fallen behind in meeting federal pollution standards.

North Carolina is the only state in its EPA region — which includes Tennessee, South Carolina, Georgia, Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida — that has not adopted EPA-approved rules on measuring toxic metals like arsenic, cadmium, copper, silver and zinc in its water, according to a letter the EPA sent on July 31 to Tom Reeder, the director of the Division of Water Resources, within the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

DENR sets standards limiting surface water pollution, which must meet requirements set by the federal Clean Water Act, a law that tells states how to protect the country’s streams, oceans, rivers and other bodies of water, and mandates restoration of polluted waterways.

Every three years, DENR is required to hold a public hearing on water quality as part of a review process to update rules that aren’t up to par.

But DENR hasn’t updated those rules in six years and is four years behind in asking for public input — the last year it held a hearing was 2006. The 2008-2010 review is ongoing, though it should have been completed in 2009.

“We continue to allow what we now know to be too much pollution to go into our water ways and into our fish, and that is inexcusable,” said Sam Perkins, the Catawba Riverkeeper, who measures damage to the river and reports problems with pollution. “It’s a disservice to the public, to the people of North Carolina, to not even listen to them every three years” in a public hearing.…

August 13, 2013

'Mystery' of 3 deaths in same hotel room traced: Carbon monoxide

Source:, June 11, 2013
By: Monte Plott

For a time, it had the makings of a mountain mystery. Three deaths — first an elderly couple then, weeks later, an 11-year-old boy — in the same hotel room with the same immediate response from authorities: cause of death undetermined.

When the third death — that of a South Carolina youth visiting Boone with his mother — made news over the weekend in a Charlotte Observer story (“Mystery surrounds Boone motel deaths,”) it brought on reader comments punctuated with words such as “terrifying,” “bizarre,” “really weird,” “incredibly creepy.”

“Bates Motel in Boone?” offered one reader.

In this town where the old ways of the mist-shrouded North Carolina mountains still abide alongside massive multi-million-dollar developments, a booming tourism industry and a lynchpin university complex at Appalachian State, the deaths in Room 225 at the Best Western Plus Blue Ridge Plaza hotel were indeed enough to get people talking.

Not so much in the realm of the unknown, however. More in the spirit of there’s-got-to-be-an-explanation — and with genuine mountain sympathy for the victims and their families.

“If it’s the same (cause for all three deaths), this is ridiculous,” Betty Austin, owner of the Mountain House restaurant near the hotel, told CNN Monday.…

June 24, 2013

Environmentalist group threatens lawsuit over NC coal ash pollution

Source:, June 19, 2013
By: John Murawski

A Chapel Hill advocacy group is threatening to sue Duke Energy Progress over alleged contamination of public water from coal ash pits, a strategy designed to prompt North Carolina regulators to take legal action again the power company.

The Southern Environmental Law Center said Wednesday it is seeking to block Progress from leaking selenium and other pollutants into Sutton Lake, a public fishing area near Wilmington. The nonprofit law group said that the coal ash storage pits at the utility’s L.V. Sutton Plant expose local fish and birds to a high risk of physical deformity and reproductive failure.

This is the third such legal threat filed by the Southern Environmental Law Center in the past year. The previous two threats resulted in the state’s regulatory agency, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, filing preemptive lawsuits to stop coal ash contamination of drinking water sources and natural habitats.

The agency’s lawsuits mean that the Southern Environmental Law Center doesn’t have to finance costly litigation against a Fortune 500 corporation, but the nonprofit law center remains involved in the cases. In the most recent legal threat against Progress, the law center represents the Cape Fear Riverkeeper, Sierra Club and Waterkeeper Alliance.

“We only have so much resources, and our clients are nonprofit community groups,” said Frank Holleman, the law center’s lawyer. “What we hope is the state and federal authorities will take appropriate enforcement action. And that Duke, being a major corporate citizen, will take steps to prevent coal ash from polluting our water.”…

April 17, 2013

N.C. group discusses environmental issues related to fracking

Source: The Fayetteville Observer (NC), April 13, 2013
Posted on:

The state Mining and Energy Commission will look at how the state’s open record laws apply to chemical mixtures that oil and gas companies consider trade secrets, the head of the commission said Friday.

Lee County Commissioner Jim Womack serves as chairman of the commission, which is writing rules for oil and natural gas exploration in North Carolina. Its work has focused on fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, a controversial method of horizontal drilling that uses chemicals, sand and water to fracture rock formations and release natural gas.

Scientists think that prehistoric rock formations beneath Lee and nearby counties may contain large deposits of natural gas.

Fracking opponents are concerned about potential harm to people and the environment. Supporters think it can be done safely and will bring economic help to the region.

Environmental concerns were discussed Friday at the commission’s Local Government Regulation Study Group. The group agreed to look at existing state environmental laws before deciding how they should be revised for gas exploration.

The commission now has six committees and three study groups looking at various issues related to oil and natural gas exploration. The commission is expected to finish its work by October 2014.…

March 27, 2013

Hog waste spill investigated

Source: The Wilson Daily Times (NC), March 16, 2013
Posted on:

State regulators are investigating a reported hog waste spill that environmental groups say could contaminate the Contentnea Creek and Neuse River.

N.C. Division of Water Quality inspectors on Friday took water samples from an unnamed stream near a Murphy-Brown farm southeast of Stantonsburg. Anti-pollution advocate Don Webb reported the discharge to the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

“It will get into the Contentnea Creek,” Webb said. “There’s no doubt about it. This is bad. This is toxic waste.”

Inspectors said there appeared to be hog waste in the stream, but tests to detect fecal coliform bacteria and other contaminants would take days to complete.

A Wilson County resident, Webb is president of the Alliance for a Responsible Swine Industry, which lobbies for increased regulation of hog farms and the elimination of the lagoon and sprayfield system of treating hog waste.

Webb said he noticed water contaminated with hog feces and urine flowing from a stream near the farm while driving past a fishing camp he owns. The sow farm is off Sand Pit Road outside Stantonsburg and sits on the northern edge of Greene County.

“The biggest concern we have here is we’ve had a major leak from this hog farm and it’s coming down this stream,” said Larry Baldwin, concentrated animal feeding operation coordinator for the Waterkeeper Alliance. “It’s more contamination into the Neuse River, which already has its share of nutrient problems.”

Work crews pumped gallons of brown, viscous water from a stream on the right side of Sand Pit Road to a long trench on the left side of the road Friday. The trench appeared to run downstream from the sow farm.…