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Evidence Found of Pollution by Progress Energy in the French Broad River

Photo: Carson collecting samples from the French Broad River. Courtesy: Hartwell Carson
Photo: Carson collecting samples from the French Broad River. Courtesy: Hartwell Carson
January 28, 2013

ASHEVILLE, N.C. - Progress Energy has 60 days to respond to allegations the company violated the Clean Water Act at its Asheville facility. The notice of intent was filed late last week by the Southern Environmental Law Center on behalf of several environmental organizations, after the French Broad Riverkeeper found evidence of toxic substances in the French Broad River.

Samples taken from the river in Asheville include evidence of coal combustion waste, listed as toxic substances by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The waste is believed by conservation groups to be from Progress Energy's coal ash plant in Asheville.

Hartwell Carson, the French Broad Riverkeeper, took the samples from the historic river and says dumping coal ash in ponds is an outdated practice.

"It's ancient technology. They basically dig a hole in the ground and they dump toxic materials in the hole and they store it all behind earthen dams."

Late last week the Southern Environmental Law Center sent a Notice of Intent to Progress Energy Carolinas, giving them 60 days to address the alleged Clean Water Act violations before they file a suit on behalf of several conservation groups.

Progress Energy claims the ash basin seepage is not an illegal discharge and is covered under their state permitting.

The substances found in the water samples include such metals as cobalt, barium, manganese and nickel. They are carcinogenic, and are known to cause asthma, learning disabilities, birth defects and other health problems, according to several environmental studies.

That pollution is believed to originate in the coal ash stored in unlined ponds near the French Broad River. Carson points out that while landfills are required to line their garbage dumps to protect the ground water, coal ash ponds do not have that requirement.

"Your banana peels and your apple cores are regulated much more tightly than coal ash," the Riverkeeper says. "And that's partially because of the influence of the coal industry."

The Asheville Progress Energy plant has two coal ash ponds, built in 1964 and 1982. Ash pond seepage has been documented for at least three decades, according to public records. Progress Energy recently estimated leakage from the older ash pond to be as high as one million gallons a day.

Stephanie Carroll Carson, Public News Service - NC