Duke University study warns of repeated coal ash spills at Sutton Lake

Updated: Jun. 3, 2019 at 12:10 PM EDT
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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - A Duke University scientist says a toxic stew of coal ash has spilled repeatedly and apparently unnoticed from storage pits at a Wilmington power plant into an adjoining lake, and flooding from Hurricane Florence was only the latest example.

Duke geochemistry and water quality professor Avner Vengosh says in the research published last week that the lead, cobalt and other heavy metals detected in the lake’s sediment equal or exceed the pollution from the country’s worst coal-ash spill in Kingston, Tennessee, in 2008.

Vengosh’s peer-reviewed findings highlight the risk of thousands of tons of coal ash stored near waterways across the hurricane-threatened Southeastern United States.

The country’s largest electricity company owns the lake and the ash. Duke energy spokesman Bill Norton says the lake was designed as a buffer between storage basins and the nearby Cape Fear River. State environmental officials report no significant pollution in the river since Florence.

On Tuesday at 9 a.m. at the Sutton Lake Public Boat Ramp and Fishing Pier, Sen. Harper Peterson and Rep. Deb Butler will discuss Vengosh’s findings and present their recommendations to the New Hanover County Health Department, the North Carolina Governor’s Office, NC Senate, NC House, and NC Departments of Environment, Health and Human Services and Attorney General.

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