Environmentalists: Coal ash-related compounds found in Cape Fear River

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Water from the flooded Cape Fear River breaches the dam at Sutton Lake in New Hanover Co. on Sept. 21, 2018. (Photo: WTVD)

WILMINGTON, NC (StarNews) — Samples taken by environmental watchdog organizations along the Cape Fear River near the Sutton plant found arsenic and selenium levels many times higher than state surface water quality standards, the groups reported Wednesday.

Taken by Cape Fear River Watch and Waterkeeper Alliance, the samples found arsenic levels 71 times state fish consumption water quality standards at one site and selenium levels 4.4 times the state’s aquatic life and secondary recreation standard.

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The samples, which were taken Sept. 21 beside the earthen dam separating the Cape Fear River from Sutton Lake hours after it failed paint a drastically different picture than those taken by Duke Energy during and after flooding caused by Hurricane Florence. Where the environmental group samples show elevated levels of arsenic, chromium, selenium and other coal ash-related compounds, Duke’s samples showed levels of all compounds within state limits.

“We feel very confident that the river water itself is still within surface water standards, which are pretty stringent,” said Erin Culbert, a Duke Energy spokeswoman.