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Groups call on NC governor to protect residents near coal ash ponds

Conservationgroups sent a letter to North Carolina's governor urging him to reinstate "donot drink" advisories for drinking wells near the state's coal ash ponds andreverse "missteps" related to ash management.

The letter,sent April 4 to Gov. Pat McCrory, also demands that he direct leadership at thestate's Department of Environmental Quality and Department of Health and Human Servicesto "stop misleading the public" about the risks of coal ash contaminationin drinking water and investigate why warnings were lifted.

The U.S.Department of Health and Human Services in March informed hundreds of residentswho live near coal ash sites that their water is now safe to drink.

The March11 letter stated that the agency has withdrawn its "do not drink" recommendationbased on an extensive study and independent assessments. The department said inthe letter that it has "now concluded the water out of your well is as safeas the majority of public water systems in the country."

Stateregulators in April 2015 had warnedresidents of the presenceof metals in drinking wells near several Duke Energy Corp. coal ash ponds. Officials,however, said that "in nearly all of these cases" the water would stillmeet federal Safe Drinking Water Act standards for municipal water supplies.

The mostrecent letter states that the advisory was a "very cautious recommendation."

A spokeswomanfor the Department of Health and Human Services said the agency performed healthrisk evaluations, or HREs, on 360 wells as part of state law in response to the 2014 coal ashspill at Duke Energy's retired DanRiver plant.

"Ofthese, 330 exceeded the screening levels for one or more constituent[s] and theHRE recommended that the water not be used for drinking or cooking," she said,adding the updated analysis means that 235 wells will no longer have a "donot drink" recommendation, while 95 wells will still carry the advisory basedon elevated levels of contaminants.

The conservationgroups, which include the Southern Environmental Law Center, Waterkeeper Allianceand Yadkin Riverkeeper, contend that the water is still not safe to drink and thatMcCrory's administration is "hiding behind shortcomings in the Safe DrinkingWater Act and the failures of neighboring states and the federal government to enactadequate health protections."

"Thesewell users were told previously not to drink their water due to elevated levelsof toxins, including a known carcinogen, hexavalent chromium," the groups saidin a news release. "As his political appointees confuse the public and ignoretheir own agency experts on safe water, Governor McCrory must act to protect communitiesliving near Duke Energy's leaking coal ash pits."

DukeEnergy, which has provided bottled water for affected well owners, maintains that"evidence from numerous studies has shown that our operations are not impactingneighbors' private wells." State officials had previously acknowledged thatmany of the components that were tested in the public and private drinking wellsmay be naturally occurring elements or unrelated to the coal ash ponds.

DukeEnergy is in the process of closing all of its coal ash basins based on , which includethe possibility of simply covering the ash within "low-risk" impoundments.

"Communitymembers have weighed in to tell your DEQ that no community is low priority and thatevery family living near coal ash deserves a safe cleanup," the groups saidin their letter to McCrory. "Capping coal ash in place is a cover-up, not acleanup."