ASHEVILLE – Earlier this week, Duke University released an important study documenting high levels of water pollution in rivers across North Carolina from 10 coal fired power plants.

The study results showed that the French Broad River and Mountain Island Lake have the highest levels of arsenic discharge contamination of all the sites studied in North Carolina.

 The study also found that the Asheville plant had much higher levels of cadmium, selenium, antimony and thallium when compared with other coal ash plants in North Carolina. The Asheville levels of these pollutants ranged up to 17 times higher than human and aquatic life benchmarks consider safe.  Asheville also posted the highest levels of strontium reported in the study.

For the last two years, the Western North Carolina Alliance’s Riverkeepers Hartwell Carson and Donna Lisenby have researched water pollution impacts from the Asheville coal fired power plant.

Today, Carson and Lisenby released new data illustrating the likely reason that the Duke University study found toxic water pollution discharged into the French Broad River among the most polluted in the state.

The data show a very significant increase in the total amount water pollution discharged by the Asheville plant after scrubbers were added in 2005 and 2006.

This information strongly supports the results of the Duke University study. Lisenby used data that Progress Energy reported to the EPA in the Toxics Release Inventory from 2002 through 2010. In 2003, Asheville released 2,492 pounds of toxic pollutants into the French Broad River.  By 2010, the pollution amount had more than doubled to 5,285 pounds.

“These are very toxic pollutants that have no business in the French Broad River where people swim and recreate every day,” said French Broad Riverkeeper Hartwell Carson.  “The fact that the scrubbers have doubled the amount of water pollution is a great concern and illustrates why we need to clean up the toxic coal ash lagoons and move Asheville Beyond Coal.”

More than 80 percent of U.S coal fired power plants with a flue gas desulfurization (FGD) system have installed a wet system that uses water to transport pollutants scrubbed from the air into ash ponds.  These ash ponds then discharge a much higher concentration of polluted water into surface water. The net result is that scrubbed coal fired power plants are much more toxic to water.

“The Duke University study combined with the dramatic increase in water pollution uncovered by our Riverkeepers shows that the Progress Energy coal plant has become a significant source of water pollution in Asheville area,” said Watauga Riverkeeper Donna Lisenby. “The research is clear: Our region would be much better served if we converted from harmful coal fired power to much cleaner renewable energy.”

Despite the danger, some senators recently introduced legislation that would prohibit the EPA from ever setting federal protections against coal ash. This toxic pollution will continue to flow into our waters, and a problem that already threatens our health and environment will only get worse.

Please take a moment to tell your senators that coal ash is a toxic threat!

Passing legislation that limits the EPA’s ability to clean up these sites and protects polluter profits over public health is not what Americans deserve. The coal industry is a powerful force in Washington. But our senators are elected to represent our best interests, not to bow to the demands of big polluters.

Tell your senator to get coal ash out of our drinking waters and protect our communities!