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NC Counties Fight Disposal of Coal Ash in Their Community

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The waste created by coal-burning power plants, coal ash contains heavy metals and other toxic compounds. (Facing South)
The waste created by coal-burning power plants, coal ash contains heavy metals and other toxic compounds. (Facing South)
November 15, 2016

PITTSBORO, N.C. – Duke Energy continues to look for a home for the millions of tons of coal ash generated by its coal-fired power plants, and part of their solution lies in abandoned slate and clay mines that dot the state map.

On Monday, concerned citizens from Chatham and Lee Counties appealed to a Superior Court judge, asking him to review a legal decision that allowed the waste to be dumped at mines in their counties.

Therese Vick, a community organizer with the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, said the permit that was issued didn't go through the proper process.

"It's clear that the Department of Environmental Quality assisted with getting these permits in almost a record amount of time," she said. "Typically, a municipal solid waste landfill like you take your trash to can take two to three years to go through the permitting process. These two facilities were permitted in less than six months."

A spokesperson for the Department of Environmental Quality said while the department can't comment on pending litigation, the permit process followed the same procedures as any other permit and the agency is following the rules set by the state Coal Ash Management Act.

Vick said samplings of the air in Chatham and Lee Counties reveal elevated levels of toxic air pollutants along the route the coal ash has been traveling to the sites.

"They are taking it by train, but they are going through so many backyards," she added. "Coal ash is very, very difficult to contain in the air, and they have not required them to have an air permit."

The Coal Ash Management Act allows coal ash to be dumped in existing mines, but Vick said her group's investigation found that over 70 percent of the land where the coal ash is being disposed of has never been mined.

Stephanie Carson/Shaine Smith, Public News Service - NC