NC Health Dept. Cautions Against Drinking From Wells Near Coal Ash
After a battery of tests on private drinking water wells near coal ash ponds around North Carolina, health officials have cautioned many residents against drinking from those wells. But officials are hesitant to draw a link between contaminants in the wells and the nearby coal ash ponds.
State environmental and health officials reviewed water samples from about 150 wells closest to coal ash ponds around the state. The water in almost all cases exceeds some state water standards, some includes lead , vanadium and chromium 6, but that doesn’t mean it’s coming from the coal ash ponds. It’s often naturally occurring, says Jay Zimmerman, section chief for the state Division of Water Resources.
In “twenty-five years looking at a lot of water samples, you typically are always going to find something that’s elevated. It’s a naturally occurring system,” says Zimmerman. “It might be aluminum, it might be iron, it might be arsenic.”
Still, the levels are high enough that the Department of Health and Human Services sent letters to 123 well owners recommending they not drink the water. That’s because heavy metals like vanadium can be found in groundwater around the state, but still be toxic. And health regulators didn’t use to look for it until directed to in the state’s new coal ash law.
“It does occur naturally in North Carolina; it also is associated with coal ash,” says Dr. Megan Davies, the head of epidemiology for the Department of Health and Human Services. “So, we don’t know what to make of the frequency with which we’re seeing these results at this time, because it really is a first time experience for all of us.”
Davies says many of the contaminants can be filtered out, so they’ll often send “Do Not Drink” letters to advise private well owners that have high levels. Regulators are now conducting tests further from the ash to try to determine whether or not it’s naturally occurring.
Duke Energy says it supports those tests, although it does not believe it’s responsible for the contamination. But, a spokeswoman says the company is willing to supply water to well owners who received letters.