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CHARLOTTE, NC (AP) — North Carolina regulators have found higher than normal levels of metals in groundwater near all 14 of the state’s coal-fired power plants run by Duke Energy and Progress Energy.

The Charlotte Observer reports the waste left over from burning coal for electricity holds metals that can be toxic in high doses. But the iron and manganese the state Division of Water Quality most widely detected are not considered health risks.

Utilities produce millions of tons of coal ash each year. It’s stored by mixing it with water in ponds or in landfills. Ash became an environmental lightning rod after a massive spill at a Tennessee waste pond in 2008.

The utilities say the groundwater results are similar to earlier findings and to background groundwater unaffected by the ash basins.

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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