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Residents near Duke coal ash dumps told not to drink well water

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Updated 3:02 p.m.

RALEIGH (AP) — State officials are advising an undisclosed number of residents near Duke Energy coal ash dumps not to drink or cook with water from their wells after tests showed contamination with toxic heavy metals, according to letters obtained by The Associated Press on Tuesday.

A law passed after last year's spill into the Dan River required the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources to sample wells within 1,000 feet of Duke's 32 coal ash dumps across the state. Officials at the state agency have refused to disclose how many families are affected statewide.

The AP obtained letters sent to 19 homes and a church near Buck Steam Station in Salisbury advising people not to consume their well water. Several of the letters cited high levels of vanadium, a naturally occurring element found in coal ash classified as hazardous by federal health officials.

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Duke Energy also received a letter from the state citing elevated levels of antimony and manganese in water collected from a drinking well that serves the Buck plant.

Duke spokeswoman Erin Culbert said the chemicals could be naturally occurring in the soil.

"Based on the state's test results we've reviewed thus far, we have no indication that Duke Energy plant operations have influenced neighbors' well water," Culbert said.

The company has three large ash dumps located at Buck covering 134 acres and containing more than 5 million tons of coal ash. The ash is a byproduct of burning coal to generate electricity. It contains numerous toxic metals, including mercury, lead and arsenic.

Statewide, Duke stores more than 150 million tons of coal ash in 32 dumps at 14 power plants. The state Coal Ash Management Act passed in the wake of the Dan River spill requires the company to move or cap all of its dumps by 2029.

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People who live near the Dan River want frequent and thorough monitoring of the water quality in the wake of Duke Energy’s coal ash spill, and they want timely reports on the results. That’s the feedback residents in Eden and Danville, Va., gave Tuesday to the Dan River Basin Community Stakeholder Team during a series of drop-in information sessions.

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