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Tests Find Arsenic in Yadkin River Near Duke Plant

Buck Steam Station closed in 2013. Coal ash is stored in basins around the retired plant.
Duke Energy
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Buck Steam Station closed in 2013. Coal ash is stored in basins around the retired plant.

   New tests have found high levels of arsenic and other chemicals in theYadkinRiver, near Duke Energy's retired Buck coal plant in Salisbury. Duke doesn't dispute the test results, but disagrees with environmentalists over what the results mean for water quality.

The tests in late August came as part of a lawsuit filed by environmentalists who want Duke to excavate coal ash from basins near the Buck plant.  Will Scott, the Yadkin Riverkeeper, said he's not surprised by the results.

"This just confirms what we've known for a long time, which is that Duke's coal ash ponds are leaking and they're discharging contaminants into the Yadkin River,” Scott said.   

The Southern Environmental Law Center, which represents the riverkeeper, released the test results this week. They show arsenic was more than four times the state standard for surface water.

Duke has permits allowing wastewater discharges from Buck's coal ash basin, and says it's not violating the permit limits. The company paid for the tests, but disagreed with the choice of testing location, Duke spokeswoman Erin Culbert said.

Samples were taken in a cove where wastewater is discharged, not where the permit says it should be measured, she said.

“They really failed to sample true river quality, and they purposely ignored the zone where permitted wastewater is allowed to be released,” Culbert said. 

Culbert said wastewater is diluted as it moves into the Yadkin’s main channel, and the river remains safe. She said it's a philosophical disagreement - environmental groups object to a regulated process that Duke is following.

Copyright 2016 WFAE

David Boraks is a WFAE weekend host and a producer for "Charlotte Talks." He's a veteran Charlotte-area journalist who has worked part-time at WFAE since 2007 and for other outlets including DavidsonNews.net and The Charlotte Observer.
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