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North Carolina's ash basins could pose health risks after closing

According to a recent report, Riverbend Steam Station in North Carolina is set to close soon. It was one of the first large-scale power plants in the area and is run by Duke Energy. In the process of closing these coal-fired plants, coal ash basins are left behind. These basins contain water and coal ash, which could harm residents in the area.

There are reportedly 69 acres of ash basins at Riverbend, which is near Charlotte's primary water supply-Mountain Island Lake. One report indicates that groundwater near many of Duke Energy's coal-fired power plants show contamination.

While minor levels of contaminants may not cause serious harm to people drinking this groundwater, certain minerals have been detected in higher levels. The groundwater near Riverbend reportedly contains acceptable levels of boron, but iron and manganese in this groundwater exceed the state's standards. According to Duke Energy's director of air and waste programs, it is unknown whether anyone in the area has been harmed by these higher than acceptable levels of iron and manganese.

There are various ways to empty ash basins. The first method involves pumping water out of the basins and covering up the remaining ash so the ash is enclosed. Alternatively, the ash can be completely removed from the basin and put into a landfill. Duke Energy will select the most appropriate method depending on the location of the ash basins in relation to groundwater.

Even though Duke Energy aims to safely remove the ash basins, it is still possible that some harmful minerals could seep into drinking water in the areas surrounding the ash basins. If people living in areas near an ash basin become ill and later learn that their illness may have been caused by ash constituents, they would likely be quite frustrated with the company managing the emptying of ash basins.

Illnesses caused by harmful minerals can be serious. For instance, one source indicates that certain ash constituents can result in cancer or organ damage. In this situation, a person may want to consider filing a personal injury lawsuit.

Source: Charlotte Observer, "Coal plant's closing leaves questions about ash," Bruce Henderson, Feb. 1, 2013

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