Groups in Court to Stop Groundwater Contamination from Toxic Coal Ash Waste
Conservation groups today went to court in an effort to protect North Carolina communities and groundwater from toxic coal ash contamination at 14 coal-fired power plants across the state. The lawsuit seeks to vindicate a North Carolina law—currently unenforced by the state—that requires industrial polluters to stop groundwater contamination and cleanup at these outdated coal ash ponds.
“Twenty years ago, North Carolina required utilities to take immediate action to stop groundwater contamination from these outdated facilities," said DJ Gerken, a senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center who represents the groups in today's filing. “Thanks to the state's misapplication of its own laws, we're still waiting for these polluters to stop and clean up known contamination of groundwater from their old industrial operations."
If successful, the lawsuit would require cleanup of groundwater contamination around outdated, unlined coal ash ponds. The Southern Environmental Law Center filed the complaint in Wake County Superior Court on behalf of the Cape Fear River Watch, Sierra Club, Waterkeeper Alliance and Western North Carolina Alliance.
Today's lawsuit challenges a December vote by the N.C. Environmental Management Commission to allow Progress Energy Carolinas and Duke Energy Carolinas continued and widespread contamination of groundwater with dangerous substances, including arsenic and thallium, without taking action to stop the contamination.
Groundwater monitoring by Progress Energy Carolinas documents persistent contamination in excess of groundwater standards at its Asheville and L. V. Sutton facilities' coal ash ponds, located near the French Broad and Cape Fear rivers upstream from Asheville and Wilmington. Several years of sampling also confirms contamination at 12 other coal-fired plants operated by Progress and Duke across the state. Despite the acknowledged contamination, the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources has not required the utilities to clean up these sites.
“The fight against toxic coal ash is gaining momentum here in North Carolina and nationwide. This is another step toward our goal of protecting North Carolina families from coal ash contamination," said Kelly Martin, Beyond Coal campaign representative with Sierra Club. “Our health and our water resources are too important to gamble with. The state of North Carolina and Duke Energy need to take action to clean up this toxic contamination now."
Among the coal waste contaminants that exceeded state standards in groundwater at the Asheville plant near the French Broad River and L.V. Sutton plant near the Cape Fear River are thallium and selenium. Thallium is a poison and suspected to cause cancer in people. Additionally, thallium is highly water-soluble and nearly tasteless, making it difficult to detect in groundwater and hard for residents to identify its presence and protect themselves. In high amounts, selenium causes illness and neurological damage in people, even death in extreme cases.
“The practice of dumping toxic coal ash into unlined holes in the ground that pollute our groundwater and rivers needs to stop," said French Broad Riverkeeper Hartwell Carson. “The French Broad River is a world class recreation destination, and we no longer want to see it used as a dumping ground for toxic coal ash."
Arsenic levels exceeded state groundwater standards at the Sutton plant on the Cape Fear River. Epidemiological studies have suggested a correlation between chronic consumption of water contaminated with arsenic and the incidence of cancer and many leading causes of death.
“Groundwater monitoring at the Sutton coal ash ponds show arsenic levels 27 times higher than safe groundwater standards, just half a mile from drinking water wells," said Kemp Burdette, Cape Fear Riverkeeper. “The risks to public health and the environment will remain until the ponds are cleaned up—we can't wait any longer."
"The N.C. Environmental Management Commission ignored the law and voted to allow Duke and Progress to continue contaminating groundwater with known dangerous chemicals like arsenic and thallium," said Donna Lisenby of Waterkeeper Alliance. "We appealed that unfortunate decision and took our case to a judge today because we believe it's critical to keep fighting for the health of our communities and waterways."
Progress Energy Carolinas and Duke Energy Carolinas confirmed contamination from older coal ash waste ponds at 14 of their facilities across the state, including:
• L.V. Sutton Power Station in Wilmington, N.C. near Lake Sutton and the Cape Fear River
• Asheville Power Station in Arden, N.C. near the French Broad River and Lake Julian
• Allen Steam Station in Belmont, N.C. near the Catawba River and Lake Wylie
• Belews Creek Steam Station in Belews Creek, N.C. near the Dan River and Belews Lake
• Buck Steam Station in Spencer, N.C. near the Yadkin River
• Cliffside Steam Station in Mooresboro, N.C. near the Broad River
• Dan River Steam Station in Eden, N.C. near the Dan River
• Marshall Steam Station in Terrell, N.C. near the Catawba River and Lake Norman
• Riverbend Steam Station in Mount Holly, N.C. near the Catawba River and Mountain Island Lake
• Cape Fear Power Station in Moncure, N.C. near the Cape Fear River
• Lee Power Station in Goldsboro, N.C. near the Neuse River
• Mayo Power Station in Roxboro, N.C. near Mayo Creek, Mayo Reservoir, Crutchfield Creek, and Roanoke Basin
• Roxboro Power Station in Semora, N.C. near the Hyco River, Hyco Lake, and Sargent's Creek
• W.H. Weatherspoon Power Station in Lumberton, N.C. near Jacob Swamp and Lumber River
Coal ash waste ponds came to national attention on Dec. 22, 2008 when a dam burst at the TVA Kingston Fossil Plant and spilled coal ash waste slurry through nearby homes and into the Emory River in Tennessee. Today, toxic coal ash waste still remains less regulated than household waste.
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1. Stay Informed<p>A first order of business in pet evacuation planning is to understand and be ready for the possible threats in your area. Visit <a href="https://www.ready.gov/be-informed" target="_blank">Ready.gov</a> to learn more about preparing for potential disasters such as floods, hurricanes, and wildfires. Then pay attention to related updates by tuning <a href="http://www.weather.gov/nwr/" target="_blank">NOAA Weather Radio</a> to your local emergency station or using the <a href="https://www.fema.gov/mobile-app" target="_blank">FEMA app</a> to get National Weather Service alerts.</p>
2. Ensure Your Pet is Easily Identifiable<p><span>Household pets, including indoor cats, should wear collars with ID tags that have your mobile phone number. </span><a href="https://www.avma.org/microchipping-animals-faq" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Microchipping</a><span> your pets will also improve your chances of reunion should you become separated. Be sure to add an emergency contact for friends or relatives outside your immediate area.</span></p><p>Additionally, use <a href="https://secure.aspca.org/take-action/order-your-pet-safety-pack" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">'animals inside' door/window stickers</a> to show rescue workers how many pets live there. (If you evacuate with your pets, quickly write "Evacuated" on the sticker so first responders don't waste time searching for them.)</p>
3. Make a Pet Evacuation Plan<p> "No family disaster plan is complete without including your pets and all of your animals," says veterinarian Heather Case in <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q9NRJkFKAm4" target="_blank">a video</a> produced by the American Veterinary Medical Association.</p><p>It's important to determine where to take your pet in the event of an emergency.</p><p>Red Cross shelters and many other emergency shelters allow only service animals. Ask your vet, local animal shelters, and emergency management officials for information on local and regional animal sheltering options.</p><p>For those with access to the rare shelter that allows pets, CDC offers <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/emergencies/pets-in-evacuation-centers.html" target="_blank">tips on what to expect</a> there, including potential health risks and hygiene best practices.</p><p>Beyond that, talk with family or friends outside the evacuation area about potentially hosting you and/or your pet if you're comfortable doing so. Search for pet-friendly hotel or boarding options along key evacuation routes.</p><p>If you have exotic pets or a mix of large and small animals, you may need to identify multiple locations to shelter them.</p><p>For other household pets like hamsters, snakes, and fish, the SPCA recommends that if they normally live in a cage, they should be transported in that cage. If the enclosure is too big to transport, however, transfer them to a smaller container temporarily. (More on that <a href="https://www.spcai.org/take-action/emergency-preparedness/evacuation-how-to-be-pet-prepared" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">here</a>.)</p><p>For any pet, a key step is to establish who in your household will be the point person for gathering up pets and bringing their supplies. Keep in mind that you may not be home when disaster strikes, so come up with a Plan B. For example, you might form a buddy system with neighbors with pets, or coordinate with a trusted pet sitter.</p>
4. Prepare a Pet Evacuation Kit<p>Like the emergency preparedness kit you'd prepare for humans, assemble basic survival items for your pets in a sturdy, easy-to-grab container. Items should include:</p><ul><li>Water, food, and medicine to last a week or two;</li><li>Water, food bowls, and a can opener if packing wet food;</li><li>Litter supplies for cats (a shoebox lined with a plastic bag and litter may work);</li><li>Leashes, harnesses, or vehicle restraints if applicable;</li><li>A <a href="https://www.avma.org/resources/pet-owners/emergencycare/pet-first-aid-supplies-checklist" target="_blank">pet first aid kit</a>;</li><li>A sturdy carrier or crate for each cat or dog. In addition to easing transport, these may serve as your pet's most familiar or safe space in an unfamiliar environment;</li><li>A favorite toy and/or blanket;</li><li>If your pet is prone to anxiety or stress, the American Kennel Club suggests adding <a href="https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/home-living/create-emergency-evacuation-plan-dog/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">stress-relieving items</a> like an anxiety vest or calming sprays.</li></ul><p>In the not-unlikely event that you and your pet have to shelter in different places, your kit should also include:</p><ul><li>Detailed information including contact information for you, your vet, and other emergency contacts;</li><li>A list with phone numbers and addresses of potential destinations, including pet-friendly hotels and emergency boarding facilities near your planned evacuation routes, plus friends or relatives in other areas who might be willing to host you or your pet;</li><li>Medical information including vaccine records and a current rabies vaccination tag;</li><li>Feeding notes including portions and sizes in case you need to leave your pet in someone else's care;</li><li>A photo of you and your pet for identification purposes.</li></ul>
5. Be Ready to Evacuate at Any Time<p>It's always wise to be prepared, but stay especially vigilant in high-risk periods during fire or hurricane season. Practice evacuating at different times of day. Make sure your grab-and-go kit is up to date and in a convenient location, and keep leashes and carriers by the exit door. You might even stow a thick pillowcase under your bed for middle-of-the-night, dash-out emergencies when you don't have time to coax an anxious pet into a carrier. If forecasters warn of potential wildfire, a hurricane, or other dangerous conditions, bring outdoor pets inside so you can keep a close eye on them.</p><p>As with any emergency, the key is to be prepared. As the American Kennel Club points out, "If you panic, it will agitate your dog. Therefore, <a href="https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/home-living/create-emergency-evacuation-plan-dog/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pet disaster preparedness</a> will not only reduce your anxiety but will help reduce your pet's anxiety too."</p>
Evacuating Horses and Other Farm Animals<p>The same basic principles apply for evacuating horses and most other livestock. Provide each with some form of identification. Ensure that adequate food, water, and medicine are available. And develop a clear plan on where to go and how to get there.</p><p>Sheltering and transporting farm animals requires careful coordination, from identifying potential shelter space at fairgrounds, racetracks, or pastures, to ensuring enough space is available in vehicles and trailers – not to mention handlers and drivers on hand to support the effort.</p><p>For most farm animals, the Red Cross advises that you consider precautionary evacuation when a threat seems imminent but evacuation orders haven't yet been announced. The American Veterinary Medical Association has <a href="https://www.avma.org/resources/pet-owners/emergencycare/large-animals-and-livestock-disasters" target="_blank">more information</a>.</p>
Bottom Line: If You Need to Evacuate, So Do Your Pets<p>As the Humane Society warns, pets left behind in a disaster can easily be injured, lost, or killed. Plan ahead to make sure you can safely evacuate your entire household – furry members included.</p>
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