Water near Duke Energy coal ash pits unsafe for drinking, expert says
- North Carolina state toxicologist Ken Rudo alleged in a deposition for a lawsuit against Duke Energy that the state's health director Dr. Randall Williams knowingly misled residents by saying the water was safe to drink, as testing showed levels of contamination above acceptable levels, according to the Associated Press.
- Rudo also claimed he was summoned for a "highly unusual" meeting at Gov. Pat McCrory (R)'s office in 2015 where the governor's communication officer Josh Ellis asked the toxicologist if warning the residents was necessary. Rudo also said Gov. McCrory participated through a phonecall for a couple of minutes. The do-not-drink advisory was issued in spring 2015 for residents near Duke Energy's coal ash pits, with state health and environmental officials in March later overriding it.
- The extent of McCrory's involvement in the decision-making is unclear according to reports, with chief of staff Thomas Stith saying the governor was not involved in that meeting with Rudo, the Winston-Salem Journal reports. Stith also denied earlier this week that that the governor had expressed concerns over the language on the Health Risk Evaluation forms both personally in his office and through Ellis.
North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory, a former Duke Energy employee, has been under heavy public scrutiny for his handling of the energy utility and their coal ash ponds ever since the 2014 Dan River coal ash spill, the third largest accident of its kind in national history with a release of 27 million gallons of toxic sludge.
Since then, both his administration's Department of Environmental Quality and Duke Energy have knocked heads with environmental and citizen advocacy groups, such as the Southern Environmental Law Center, for accusations that the utility wasn't being held accountable for the clean-up of its coal ash ponds at all fourteen of its sites throughout North Carolina. McCrory had disbanded the state's Coal Ash Management Commission earlier this year, and vetoed a popularly supported coal ash bill that would have reestablished it before finally signing a compromise bill in July.
In each instance of legal action, as well as with a recent release of a study from Duke University scientists connecting coal ash waste to water contamination, Duke Energy has repeatedly said that there is no evidence contaminated groundwater has reached any of the communities nearby.
Rudo, in his deposition, says that tests of the water inside wells near the utility's coal ash ponds showed high levels of hexavalent chromium, which has been linked to cancer, reports AP. In addition, Rudo alleged that the state health official's decision to reverse the do-not-drink advisory issued in spring last year was “highly unethical” and “possibly illegal."
Rudo, who claims that the governor had summoned him to his office in 2015 to express concerns over the language of the advisory, had additionally been approached by Ellis to discuss the forms.
"They wanted language put on there that stated, in essence, we were overreacting in telling people not to drink their water," said Rudo, who followed with, "that was something we had never been asked to do before."
Stith said that McCrory had never been involved in the override of the do-not-drink advisory, reports the Winston-Salem Journal.
“We don’t know why Ken Rudo lied under oath, but the governor absolutely did not take part in or request this call or meeting as he suggests,” Stith said.
“The fact is that the state sent homeowners near coal ash ponds all facts and safety information about their drinking water and thanks to the McCrory administration’s efforts, well owners are being hooked up to municipal water supplies at Duke Energy’s expense.”
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