Are Wayne County wells near coal ash ponds really safe?

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Wayne County residents have their doubts about water safety.

For the past year, some Wayne County neighbors living near a coal ash pond have been using bottled water. This began because of the state's concerns that people's well water could be contaminated. Recently, the state has decided to lift the ban for some people.

But neighbors have their doubts.

Sara Mullens' new normal is living off a gallon of water each day. She receives a shipment each week - provided by Duke Energy for free. She uses it to drink and cook food.

"I just want clean water," Mullens said.

For the past year, Mullens and about four other families in the county have been under an order not to drink well water because they live near a coal ash pond.

For nearly a century, Duke Energy had been dumping the byproduct of burning coal in unlined pits, positioned next to rivers or natural water sources.

Last year, the State placed a drinking ban on 330 wells out of concerns of possible harmful levels of Hexavalent Chromium and Vanadium in the water.

Just recently, state health and environmental officials announced that out of the 330 wells affected by the water ban last year, 235 wells are safe.

The Department of Health and Human Service explained its decision in a statement:

"Usage recommendations were originally made with an abundance of caution. Further study of these elements, as well as municipal and other water sources throughout the United States has led DHHS to withdraw the previous "do not drink" recommendation."

The agency plans to send letters to people no longer impacted by the drinking ban.

Duke Energy is beginning the process of excavating the coal ash ponds near water streams. It released this statement to ABC 11:

"Evidence shows that our operations are not impacting neighbors' private wells. Water in tested wells is just as safe (as) or better than the public water supplies millions of people in the nation rely on. In many instances, these constituents may be naturally occurring as evidenced by background well data at other locations across North Carolina show these substances occur many miles from ash basins. Our hope is that state and county health officials can provide additional clarity for well owners going forward. Duke Energy will continue to monitor groundwater around its plant sites as we work to close ash basins and into the future to ensure the public and the environment remain protected."

Mullens said she has not received a letter yet stating her water is safe. She says she wants her water tested again before she will feel comfortable drinking from the tap.

"It doesn't change that the chemicals are still there. They've done no clean up," Mullens said. "They've started excavating some of the coal ash ponds but miraculously it is not going to be fixed."

Duke Energy and the Department of Environmental Quality are holding public forums to allow people to weigh in on which coal ash ponds should be moved immediately.

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