Crowd confronts Duke about tainted wells

An irate crowd peppered a Duke Energy representative Thursday night with questions and accusations over groundwater contamination near the Allen power plant.

The crowd’s size roughly equaled the 103 households that have been advised not to drink their well water. Most now rely on bottled water supplied by Duke as studies of the contamination continue.

The community meeting had been billed as one in which Duke would answer questions about the contamination and the coal ash ponds at Allen, but that didn’t last long.

Following angry tirades from two residents, Duke engineer Sean DeNeale left the podium after his presentation. He answered a few more questions from his seat, but Duke officials left the meeting 30 minutes before it ended.

“Everything you say is a lie!” yelled a man who said he hadn’t been told about the contamination until he found bottled water delivered to his back porch. “You sent me my power bill but you didn’t send me a (notification) letter.”

Allen has more neighbors who have been advised not to drink their well water than any other Duke plant statewide.

Many wells have high concentrations of vanadium, a metal that in high doses can cause heart, gastrointestinal and other problems, and hexavalent chromium, which may cause cancer.

Some neighbors of the power plants are beginning to count the cancer deaths in their communities, heightening suspicions.

As groundwater studies continue, Duke contends there is little evidence the contamination is coming from its ash ponds. The wells don’t show high levels of two ash elements, sulfate and boron, that typically leach readily from ash.

Duke also questions the low screening levels for vanadium and hexavalent chromium that state health authorities used in assessing private wells near Duke’s power plants. Both can occur naturally, and high concentrations of vanadium are found in North Carolina soils.

“If you’re an adult and you drink two liters of (well) water a day, you’d get 16 times more daily vanadium from daily vitamins than you would get in your water,” toxicologist Lisa Bradley, a consultant for Duke, said in a recent interview.

The concentrations of hexavalent chromium are consistent with levels commonly found in drinking water, Bradley said.

Catawba Riverkeeper Sam Perkins was skeptical at Thursday’s meeting.

Vanadium levels found in the wells around Allen are higher than occur naturally in the area, Perkins said. “Everything through element 98 on the periodic table is naturally occurring,” he added.

Perkins said the Duke studies that will show the flow of groundwater around its power plants don’t account for the possibility that large community wells, such as those near Allen, could pull ash contaminants toward private wells.

Another resident asked whether Duke intends to ask legislators or state officials to increase the standards for vanadium and hexavalent chromium, reducing its potential liability. No, DeNeale said.

Belmont resident Amy Brown, a mother of two young boys who has helped rally her neighbors to demand answers, said Duke’s explanations offer little satisfaction.

“As a parent,” she said, “I didn’t give anyone permission to give vanadium to my child.”

Henderson: 704-358-5051;

Twitter: @bhender