Thursday, April 14, 2016

UPDATE August 3: Coal Ash + Duke Energy=DEQ's Weird Science

So...what would you little maniacs like to do first? 

~Lisa, Weird Science, 1985


The story continues:

Testimony: McCrory called toxicologist Ken Rudo to his office to discuss do-not-drink letters for well owners near coal ash pits

Gov. Pat McCrory summoned state toxicologist Ken Rudo to his office in early 2015 for a meeting during which a McCrory staff member challenged the advisory Rudo had helped draft telling well owners near coal ash pits owned by Duke Energy not to drink their water, according to recent testimony given in a deposition by Rudo.

Friends, a recent headline:

Testimony: Duke Energy met with state officials to challenge water advisories

Duke Energy used its access at top levels of state government to challenge the do-not-drink warning and health screening level that had been vetted by state health experts for the carcinogen hexavalent chromium in private wells near the company’s coal ash basins, according to testimony by the state epidemiologist made public Thursday.


We have witnessed a true miracle in North Carolina! Hexavalent chromium (the toxic metal made infamous by Erin Brockovich)  has been rendered safe by sheer willpower and four magic words. Who, you might ask, is responsible for this feat? None other than our very own Mr. Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) Assistant Secretary Tom Reeder. Remember Tom? He was featured in a post from another blog of mine a while back: Water, Water Everywhere and Not a Drop to Drink: Part One. Since then, Tom got a promotion! Let's get back to the subject of this piece, hexavalent chromium aka Cr(VI).

Cr(VI) is an endocrine disrupting and carcinogenic toxic metal that is almost always produced by industrial processes, and is found in coal ash (magic words). The US EPA has been avoiding requirements to control this substance in drinking water, not because it isn't dangerous, it is-their own research shows that. After EPA proposed limits for Cr(VI) in 2010, the industry push back was so fierce it sent EPA running to put their recommended level back on the shelf.

Fast forward to North Carolina in 2014. The Coal Ash Management Act (CAMA) was passed in 2014 following the Dan River spill. Testing private wells around Duke Energy (two more magic words) coal ash impoundments was one of the provisions of the law. Because Cr(VI) and vanadium had no established limits in North Carolina, DEQ and the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) were tasked with coming up with recommendations, which they did. Testing began around the coal ash impoundments, and, among other nasty things, surprise, surprise Cr(VI) and vanadium started showing up above safe levels in people's wells.  Also under the enchantment of the magic words, baseline testing of private wells near Duke Energy's proposed coal ash landfill in Lee County started showing high levels of Cr(VI). This site has possible legacy contamination which was not investigated prior to the permitting of the landfill- although concerns were raised about it. DHHS sent out "do not drink" letters. Then...the magic happened. The combination of those four magic words coal ash + Duke Energy was so powerful that hexavalent chromium began to be detoxified. Amazing! Astounding!

Wait a minute- toxicologists and epidemiologists with DHHS and DEQ collaborated on the assessment of Cr(VI), using established risk-assessment methodology- including the process that the DEQ uses to analyze the public health risk of chemicals in groundwater. North Carolina law requires that toxic constituents in groundwater pose no more than a one-in a-million risk of cancer to the public. But they were no match for those four magic words, coal ash+Duke Energy. From emails obtained through a public records request:
"The MCL and the N.C. 2L standard for total chromium are dated and no longer protective of public health based on the principles by which the N.C. 2L standards are based.
 The excess life-time cancer risk estimates for the MCL and the N.C. 2L standards calculated using the 2L rule method result in an unacceptable level of excess life-time human cancer risk."

Health experts in North Carolina are not alone in their concern about the levels of Cr(VI) being found. In a recent article, Max Costa, professor of environmental medicine at New York University said of the amounts being found around coal ash (magic words) pits here: I wouldn’t want to drink water with 21 parts per billion hexavalent chromium. You’re drinking a carcinogen.” A year of fear and distrust in Dukeville- Environmental Health News April 18, 2016

Enter Dr. Randall Williams, state health director. He's a likeable kind of guy- he delivers babies for heaven's sake! (Full disclosure I have never trusted someone wearing a bow-tie...) Dr. Williams went on the road with Reeder. I caught their magic act in Lee County: 

What Reeder would have us believe is that municipalities all across North Carolina have Cr(VI) levels higher than the private wells around Duke Energy's coal ash impoundments. The snake oil Dr. Williams is selling is that vanadium is good for us, and that we should ignore the state's public health experts on Cr(VI). 

The "do drink" letters began arriving in communities across North Carolina. 

The media has done an excellent job of explaining:

Winston-Salem Journal: 

By lifting do-not-drink warning, state water and health regulators choose 1 in 700 cancer risk


Well owners say new guidance raises old coal ash concerns Read more at

Also deeply disturbing, a legislative committee, the Environmental Review Commission  is considering a bill that is frankly a gag order that will limit the ability of DEQ and DHHS to notifiy private well owners unless a contaminant exceeds a federal level- which ignores North Carolina's health based screening levels.

The public deserves a state agency that protects public health and the environment, not polluters. Recently, the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources changed their name to the Department of Environmental Quality. We have a better idea DEQ: Don't Expect Quality.

#coalash #NCDEQ #DontExpectQuality #DukeEnergy #ncpol


  1. I am one of the families that are dealing with all this mess and it blows my mind that my state, the state I grew up in, the state I travel in the, the state I LOVE, would not WANT to protect their own people, but then again, look at our Governor and his deep deep pockets from DADDY DUKE.... We have begged, begged our state for answers and been waiting months for information as we DEMAND FULL CLEAN UP OF ALL COAL ASH DUMP PITS OWNED BY DUKE ENERGY....We also are NOW waiting for our state to issue AN APOLOGY as all their "new updated information to us was FALSE (March 11, 2016 letter to us) and NEW DO NOT DRINK THE WATER letters. Both of these things are warranted and needed for us to move on.

  2. Great article... heads should roll. Don't forget we can stop a lot of this corruption by voting McCrory out in November!!! It can be as simple as that.

  3. Both Reeder and Williams should be fired immediately! They have publically lied to every citizen of the state, they have deliberately and with foresight placed public health at risk because their allegiance is to Duke Energy...not their employees?others, the people of NC!!!!

  4. Both Reeder and Williams should be fired immediately! They have publically lied to every citizen of the state, they have deliberately and with foresight placed public health at risk because their allegiance is to Duke Energy...not their employees?others, the people of NC!!!!


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