Lawmakers speak out on new study about Sutton Lake contamination

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WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — Heavy metals are contaminating Sutton Lake in New Hanover County, according to a new study.

Two local lawmakers held a news conference this morning to discuss the study and its impacts.

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“People are on this lake right now, on boats, catching fish that I believe have high metal content, and they’re going to be eating them,” Rep. Deb Butler said.

Sutton Lake is popular with recreational boaters and fisherman. It’s something you may not be able to see in the water, but officials say they don’t even know just how deep down this contamination goes.

New research from Duke University’s Avner Vengosh shows large amounts of lead, cobalt and other heavy metals in Sutton Lake.



Cape Fear River Keeper Kemp Burdette says there have been coal ash spills from the nearby Duke Energy plant for years, but one of the biggest was after Hurricane Florence.

“They need to pay for monitoring of the lake that they’ve polluted,: Burdette said. “You can’t understand the situation without actually going out and collecting the data and looking at it.”

At a news conference this morning , Sen. Harper Peterson (D-New Hanover) and Rep. Deb Butler (D-New Hanover) said the contamination needs to be addressed now, because people’s health is at risk.

“Originally, Duke Energy had 14 coal-fired electric plants. They’re now to seven, I believe,” Butler said. “It’s time to fast track the closure to these coal-fired plants. We need to encourage Duke to embrace renewable energy sources sooner than later.”

Butler says it is not OK for the clean-up costs to fall onto taxpayers.

Sen. Harper Peterson says this contamination is a nation-wide issue.

“This is an issue not only here,” Peterson said. “It’s not an isolated issue. This cumulative effect of coal ash spills over the last 50 years is evident throughout the state and most likely, throughout the country.”

Officials say they don’t know just how far down in the lake this contamination goes. Butler and Peterson say the issue needs to be addressed now.

“It is not OK to lollygag on this process, and it is not okay for them to suggest that this contamination is quote, ‘old news,'” Butler said.

June 11 in Raleigh, studies will be presented on research on health impacts from coal ash.

A representative from Duke Energy says the company has shared sediment results from as far back as the 1990s with North Carolina Wildlife, so these findings are not new.

The lake only became public in 2014, and most importantly, Duke Energy says, their tests show that the lake is well within water quality standards.