RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina environmental officials moved Tuesday to fine Duke Energy over pollution that has been seeping into the groundwater for years from a pair of coal ash dumps at a retired power plant outside Wilmington.
The state Department of Environment and Natural Resources issued a notice of violation to Duke over the ongoing contamination at the L.V. Sutton Electric Plant in New Hanover County. The site includes a pair of unlined dumps estimated to hold 2.6 million tons of ash.
The notice of violation is the first regulatory step toward fining the utility for violating the state's groundwater contamination laws.
The state says monitoring wells near Duke's dumps at Sutton showed readings exceeding state groundwater standards for boron, thallium, selenium, iron, manganese and other chemicals. Thallium was used for decades as the active ingredient in rat poison until it was banned because it is so highly toxic.
The agency refused Tuesday to immediately provide the Associated Press the monitoring reports used as the basis of the enforcement action. Those documents are public records under state law.
"Administrative staff in Raleigh are conducting a final analysis of the data before confirming and making public all of the results," said agency spokesman Jamie Kritzer. "The final data will be used to determine the extent of the violations and any penalties assessed."
Duke spokeswoman Erin Culbert suggested Thursday that some of the chemicals cited by the state, such as iron and manganese, could occur naturally in the soil. She did not specifically address the thallium readings.
"We understand the importance of protecting groundwater near our facilities, which has driven the company's monitoring program, previous studies and work toward closing ash basins," Culbert said.
The state sued Duke in state court last year after a coalition of environmental groups gave notice they intended to take the company to federal court for violating the Clean Water Act. In its court filings, state officials said all 33 of Duke's coal ash dumps statewide are contaminating groundwater.
Duke is fighting the state in court and there are no dates yet scheduled for when the cases may go to trial.
As the case drags on, state Water Resources director Tom Reeder said his agency would use its authority under state law to start fining Duke up to $25,000 a day.
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