Last Saturday, the Red, White and Water team traveled to Belmont, N.C., to the G.G. Allen Steam Station for a day of canvassing. Walking door-to-door, we asked residents of the communities near the coal-fired power plant if they had been impacted by water pollution.
I met Archie Dixon, who was featured in the Gaston Gazette a few months ago. Dixon had complained to Duke Energy, which owns the power plant, about coal ash staining his property and getting into his drinking water. I spoke with him while he and his grandson (also named Archie, or “Lil’ Arch”) waited for a plumber for a broken pipe on their property. In his garage sat a waist-high stack of bottled water. Mr. Dixon said that he still refuses to drink his own home’s water.
The pollution near the plant happens in two ways. One is through coal ash ponds. Coal ash is the waste byproduct from burning coal and it contains contaminants such as arsenic, mercury and chromium. Because the one active coal ash pond at G.G. Allen is an unlined impoundment, these toxics can seep into groundwater. Tests near the plant have revealed exceedances in manganese, iron and nickel in the groundwater.
Effluent is the other form of pollution at G.G. Allen — the plant wastewater that discharges directly into the surface waters of nearby Lake Wylie. Under the Clean Water Act, permits are issued for each of the plant’s discharge points. These permits, however, only set limits for traditional pollutants, including oil and grease, “total suspended solids” and pH. They rarely limit pollutants such as mercury, selenium, and arsenic. And with a lack of federal guidelines, many states don’t set their own permit limits for these toxic chemicals.