CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The state of North Carolina has expanded its lawsuit against Duke Energy over water pollution from coal ash ponds to include pollution in Mountain Island Lake, the Charlotte region s primary source of drinking water. The state already sued Duke over similar contamination near a coal-fired power plant in Asheville.

The expansion of the lawsuit follows formal notice from the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation that it would sue Duke over pollution from the Riverbend Steam Station. That closed the first of April but ponds containing millions of tons of coal ash remain on site.

A spokeswoman for Duke responded to the new legal action by saying that Duke meets all state and federal requirements for the site, and routinely monitors lake water quality, which she described as healthy.

A researcher at Duke University discovered last year that arsenic in the water trapped in the muck at the base of Mountain Island Lake came directly from the coal ash ponds.

The Charlotte Mecklenburg Utility District, known as CMUD, tests the raw water before it is treated and pumped to homes and businesses to drink, and has given it a clean bill of health. But Duke University chemist Avner Vengosh reported that under severe drought conditions, arsenic trapped in the muck outside water intake valves could bubble up into the raw water supply.

Duke Energy has yet to announce how it plans to close the coal ash ponds remaining at Riverbend. Environmental groups would like Duke to dig out the coal ash and dispose of it in lined landfills, where it is less likely to leak into groundwater and surface water.

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