Rep. Kelly Alexander (D-Mecklenberg) is calling for a study into the long-term health effects of exposure to coal ash.
Alexander said the study should be conducted by the North Carolina Department of Natural Resources, the Department of Public Health or a local university with expertise in coal ash and its effect on health.
“We’ve got to have strong data that tells us what the health conditions of people are now,” Alexander said.
Thousands in North Carolina live near the state’s 33 coal ash ponds.
Alexander believes these people may have been exposed to dangerous pollutants that can lead to an array of health problems.
“Kids would come in play in this thing years ago when I was a kid,” said Jon Crawford. He lives near a coal ash pond by Belmont, North Carolina.
Duke Energy said the public shouldn’t worry.
“There is no evidence that should give neighbors any concern,” said Erin Culbert with Duke Energy.
It is the years of exposure to the ponds that worry some.
“We’re talking about things that don’t develop in the short term,” Alexander said. “They develop in the long term. We don’t want eventually to have a Love Canal situation.”
Love Canal was a site in New York used as a dumping ground for toxic chemicals by the Hooker Chemical Company until the company sold the land in 1953 for $1, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency. Around 20 years later, homes were built on the site leading to birth defects and health problems for residents.
Eventually, more than 800 people were relocated from the area.
Alexander said nothing like that has been recorded with coal ash. But he said the state can’t afford to wait and see if it does happen.
The state and Duke Energy should help pay for the study, according to Alexander.
“I don’t think the utilities cost should be passed on to rate payers,” Alexander said. “I think that cost should be borne by the owners of that utility.”
Alexander is calling on Gov. Pat McCrory to lead in this but if McCrory fails to act, Alexander said he would introduce a bill next year in the long session to set up a cancer cluster study.
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