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NC wants to find the source of water contaminants near the Chatham coal ash landfill

A large-diameter leachate pipes rise up at the lip of the state-of-the-art lined coal ash landfill in Person County, NC. Chatham County has agreed to host a similar landfill for Duke Energy in exchange for $19 million, which the county will use for environmental monitoring and possibly for catastrophic insurance.
A large-diameter leachate pipes rise up at the lip of the state-of-the-art lined coal ash landfill in Person County, NC. Chatham County has agreed to host a similar landfill for Duke Energy in exchange for $19 million, which the county will use for environmental monitoring and possibly for catastrophic insurance. hlynch@newsobserver.com

The state Department of Environmental Quality wants a professional, third-party evaluation of a coal ash landfill in Chatham County after testing found high levels of metals and other contaminants in groundwater and surface water.

Charah Inc. developed the coal ash landfill for Duke Energy at Brickhaven, a former clay mine in Chatham County. The letter dated Friday from DEQ said barium, vanadium, cobalt and other elements were found in groundwater monitoring wells at levels higher than state standards. Surface water had high levels of arsenic, copper, lead, zinc, and other elements, the letter said.

Brickhaven has been taking coal ash since 2015, the News & Observer has reported. The state stepped up its regulation of coal ash after tons of it spilled into the Dan River in 2014. Duke Energy is digging coal ash out of some of its retention ponds and sending it to lined landfills.

In an email, a spokeswoman for DEQ said the department wants an evaluation of the site to determine why the concentration of some chemicals exceed state standards.

“The elements found could be naturally occurring,” spokeswoman Laura J. Leonard wrote. “Further assessment and investigation is needed.”

The state Division of Waste Management wants Charah to hire a geologist to come up with a plan to figure out why the concentrations of some chemicals exceed state standards.

DEQ sent the letter to Charah’s environmental manager, Norman Divers. He did not respond to phone calls or an email Monday.

An April 2018 engineering report done for Charah said coal ash has not had an impact on the groundwater or surface water, and that the elements found in high concentrations were naturally occurring.

Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, which criticized the state approval for the coal ash landfill as rushed, hired its own hydrogeologic and engineering consulting firm. The environmental group’s consultant criticized the water monitoring plan in a report last year, and said the contamination could be connected to coal ash, the News & Observer reported.

The Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League was concerned that not enough monitoring wells were required, said Therese Vick, research director for the league.

Charah has to deliver a plan for determining the source of chemicals by the end of August. The plan could include more groundwater wells or stream sampling, Leonard wrote.

“Better late than never,” Vick said.

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