CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The group "American Rivers" has named the Catawba River among the most endangered in the U.S. based on the threat from unlined ponds filled with millions of tons of coal ash -- the residue from coal burning steam power plants operated by Duke Energy.
Duke attacked the designation before it was even made public, calling it a "gimmick" designed to play on public emotions.
Duke says the water in the Catawba is clean and safe but only last week the North Carolina Health Department issued a first-of-its-kind advisory against pregnant women eating striped bass from Lake Norman, the largest of a chain of lakes on the Catawba. The advisory stemmed from the presence of PCB's in the fish. Polychlorinated biphenyls are used in electric motors but there is no direct connection between the PCB's and Duke Energy.
There is, however, a connection between Duke Energy coal ash ponds and arsenic in Mountain Island Lake. Duke University researcher Avner Vengosh published a study last year tying molecules of arsenic in the lake directly to coal ash ponds at the Riverbend Steam Station.
Duke Energy closed Riverbend earlier this month but the utility has yet to release a long-term plan for the disposal of coal ash contained in the ponds.
Environmentalists have called on Duke to dry out the ponds and truck out the coal ash to double-lined dry landfills such as the one adjacent to Duke's Allen Steam Station at Lake Wylie.