Thursday, December 05, 2013

Researcher says coal ash deforms fish in N.C. lake

A study by a Wake Forest University researcher with ties to conservation groups found that coal ash pollution caused by a recently closed coal-fired Duke Energy plant is responsible for the deaths of 900,000 bluegill every year in Sutton Lake, near Wilmington, N.C., John Downey reports for the Charlotte Business Journal. The study's author, Dennis Lemly, said selenium poisoning is responsible for reducing the lake's bluegill and largemouth-bass population by 50 percent. Lemly "put the value of the fish killed at between $4.5 million and $7 million per year. And he said selenium leaching from the ponds is leaving thousands more fish deformed."

Researchers "analyzed more than 1,400 fish from Sutton Lake," with Lemly and four conservation groups saying in a statement that they "found several species of fish showing disturbing mutations of the heads, mouths, spines, and tails," Indian Country Today Media Network reports. The joint statement said: "Selenium pollution from Duke’s coal ash takes food off the table of North Carolinians who count on Sutton Lake to feed their families—and fish off fishermen’s lines." (Read more) (Eco Watch photo: The bottom photo is a normal bluegill; the top is one deformed from Sutton Lake)

Lemly and the conservation groups say that despite the change to natural gas, "the threat to the lake will continue," Downey writes. "They contend the only solution is to remove the coal ash from the open ponds and dispose of it in a lined landfill to prevent selenium and other pollutants from leaching into the Cape Fear River and into the lake. Lemly says he was unable to directly study the effects of the selenium on bass, carp and catfish because he could not find sufficient numbers of young fish of those types to perform a valid study. But he says the significant impact on bluegill—causing serious deformities that are severe enough to cause more than 30 percent of the bluegill population to die annually—indicates other species are affected as well."

Duke, which closed the coal-fired plant last month and replaced it with a natural-gas plant, rebutted the report, Downey writes. The company said in a statement: “Duke Energy has complied diligently with its water discharge permit, and the Sutton plant had a long history of safety and high operational excellence. State permitting experts write permits in a way that ensures lakes and rivers are well protected. In more than three decades of sampling using well accepted scientific techniques and observing hundreds of thousands of fish in Sutton Lake, Duke Energy biologists have not observed the health effects described in today’s report and find the report’s claims highly suspect. We routinely sample water quality in the Cape Fear River, which continues to be good quality with no concerns for fish populations or aquatic life.” (Read more)

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