Clean Air Carolina, along with its partners, the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation and Southern Environmental Law Center recently secured a major win for clean air and clean water. Duke Energy withdrew its request to add halide salts or bromides to control mercury emissions at its coal plants.
This is a classic case of unintended consequences, but in the burning of fossil fuels, not unusual. To reduce mercury emissions from its coal plants, Duke Energy used bromides, another chemical which can be volatile in air and water. But bromides ended up in Duke’s unlined, leaking coal ash pits and eventually found their way into in our drinking water sources. When bromides interact with chlorine which we use to clean our water, cancer-causing trihalomethanes (THM) are formed. Multiple communities downstream of Duke Energy’s coal ash sites have reported spikes in carcinogens in their drinking water and traced the cause back to the unlined, leaking coal ash pits.
THM’s are so dangerous to humans, they were the subject of the first drinking water regulation issued by the EPA after the passage of the 1974 Safe Drinking Water Act. Two types of trihalomethanes are so toxic that the EPA has set a public health goal of zero, meaning that people should not be exposed to any level of these pollutants.
Burning fossil fuels to generate electricity pollutes our air, our water, and our soil and harms humans and wildlife. Mercury pollution is converted by fish to methylmercury, a potent neurotoxin, which can cause neurological problems in children whose mother’s ate contaminated fish when they were pregnant and can affect the health of raptors which eat the fish.
Clean Air Carolina is working hard to transition our state’s energy sector to 100% clean, renewable energy sources. In the meantime, we will continue to be diligent in our efforts to monitor air toxics and other threats from our coal plants.