Lawmakers respond to Duke University study that warned of repeated coal ash spills at Sutton Lake

Updated: Jun. 4, 2019 at 12:45 PM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Lawmakers responded Tuesday to findings from researchers at Duke University that coal ash spilled several times into a lake, and has gone unnoticed. The researchers said this most recently occurred after Hurricane Florence.

Rep. Deb Butler (D) and Sen. Harper Peterson (D) held a press conference responding to the study at Sutton Lake on Tuesday. They had several recommendations, including asking the New Hanover County’s Health Department to analyze the study’s results.

“It’s a beautiful place [Sutton Lake] and it’s terrible to think that resources like this won’t be fit for human use if we’re not careful. I want the health department, we’re going to call upon the health department, to do a thorough analysis to see if this is safe for our citizens’ use. I hope it is but I’d rather doubt it and that’s a tragedy," Butler said.

The representatives also want the state Department of Environmental Quality to require Duke Energy to sample the water here, and pay for the costs connected to the possible contamination.

After Hurricane Florence, the coal ash landfill at the Sutton Plant breached, impacting Sutton Lake. Researchers at Duke University tested the lake afterward and said heavy metals like arsenic were found in the sediment.

A representative with Duke Energy said the company studies sediment here and the data shows metal levels “within applicable surface quality standards."

“It is ludicrous to compare decades-old ash at the bottom of a man-made wastewater facility to anything found in conventional lakes and rivers," the Duke Energy rep said. “This wastewater facility did exactly what it was designed to do: serve as a buffer between our former coal plant and the Cape Fear River to keep the public and environment safe.”

A boater who goes to the lake often said he isn’t too bothered by the findings. Others, however, said they’re not surprised at the findings, but are concerned.

“I’ve lived in North Carolina my whole life and we’ve seen this in other parts of the state. We’ve cleaned up waterways and we continue to pollute them," citizen Rebecca Stutts said.

“We haven’t learned anything. I am very concerned because a lot of citizens come out here to play in this water, to fish in this water, they boat in this water,” Stutts said.

Butler said the state needs to provide an incentive for Duke Energy to use renewable energy.

“It’s time for us to take a pivot and start doing things differently and understanding that if you’re going to use a public resource, you must prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that any discharge into our air or our water is safe. We don’t do that now," Butler said.

Butler and Peterson also want the NC DEQ and DOJ to request all internal documents and records associated with onsite management, and all records regarding intended or unintended spills or discharges.

Scientists with Duke University will present their findings to lawmakers in Raleigh next week.

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