DEQ flip-flops on drinking water safety

For immediate release, March 8, 2016

At a meeting in Lee County yesterday, officials at the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality and N.C. Department of Health and Human Services reversed their previous position and told citizens their well water was safe to drink despite elevated levels of certain contaminants associated with coal ash. The officials further said that any North Carolinian who had received a previously issued “do not drink” order for the contaminants could safely use their well water.

Citizens living near coal ash ponds were alarmed by the reversal. At least 424 homes received “do not drink” letters from the DHHS last year due to elevated levels of the carcinogen hexavalent chromium, vanadium or other toxic metals associated with coal ash. Most of those families have been living on bottled water ever since.

A statement from Appalachian Voices North Carolina Campaign Coordinator Amy Adams:

“State officials owe residents and local officials in Lee County an apology, and they owe every North Carolinian an explanation. Falling back on the flawed reasoning we’ve come to expect from the DEQ, the agency appears ready to abandon the health standards developed by DHHS. We share residents’ skepticism of the state’s sudden claims that their water has been safe all along.

“While DEQ leaders have repeatedly shown themselves to be clumsy when it comes to public statements, they always stress that they rely on the facts. But the situation in Lee County shows the agency’s split-personality and an apparent disagreement on which facts matter and which can be ignored.”