By Jon Camp
Johnny Gurley has a problem. He can’t drink his water. At least, he won’t drink it. He says he and his wife got a 24-page letter from Duke Energy detailing elevated contaminant and toxin levels in their water but stopping short of explicitly saying they should stop drinking it.
“Would you drink it?” asked Gurley. “I don’t think so. I don’t think anyone at Duke Energy would drink it. I don’t think anyone with any sense would drink it.”
“Talking with a forked tongue, that’s what I call it,” chimed in Gurley’s wife, Nancy, “saying don’t drink it, you can drink it; this is ok, but this is not ok.”
The Gurleys came to Raleigh with the new advocacy group “Alliance of Carolinians (ACT) Against Coal Ash.” It’s a grassroots effort to bring attention to problems they say go hand in hand with living near a coal ash lagoon.
Neither Duke nor the state have linked coal ash to health problems but both say they’ve collected reams of data and are studying that question.
“We’ve just completed comprehensive groundwater assessments around each of our coal as sites and at this point, we’re just not seeing some of the connections that some of these claims are making,” said Duke Energy Spokesperson Jeff Brooks. “These groundwater assessments which are part of the closure process are giving us a clearer picture of what’s happening with our groundwater. What’s happening with the areas around our plant and we’re just not seeing the correlations. And that doesn’t mean it’s not something else. It doesn’t mean it’s not naturally occurring in this area. But at this point it doesn’t seem to be us.”
Johnny Gurley isn’t buying it. “Within one mile radius of my house,” he said, “I have a list of 91 people who are sick with cancer.”
“This is not something that we can drop a few million dollars and make some nice news reel and put it away,” said Bobby Jones, also from Goldsboro. “This is killing people in our state.”
“We had over 200 wells contaminated in our area,” said agreed Larry Mathis, from Belmont. “That’s several hundred people. This is families. This is children. We’re talking something serious about people’s health and the environment. And that’s why we’re coming together. So our voices can be heard and not just in little local places.”