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Families take stories of cancer, birth defects to NC lawmakers

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Kim Brewer, who lives near Duke Energy's Buck Steam Station, said her daughter Ava was born with Chiari malformation. Kim Brewer, who lives near Duke Energy's Buck Steam Station, said her daughter Ava was born with Chiari malformation.
RALEIGH, N.C. -

Settled just outside Duke Energy's Buck Steam Station in Salisbury is the town of Dukeville, where families live right beside its four coal ash ponds holding more than 6 million tons of ash.

"Our well is only a little over 400 feet from the ash pond," JoAnne Thomas said.

She and her husband Ron drove to Raleigh on Thursday to share with lawmakers what they say they've seen for years in their neighborhood.

"We've had dozens of people with brain tumors and most have died from it. It's very damaging," JoAnne explained.

The Waterkeeper Alliance tested the wells of families living around the coal ash pond and say they found elevated levels of hexavalent chromium, known to cause cancer.

  • Click Here to view Waterkeeper Alliance's sampling results

"I had a brain tumor," JoAnne shared. "Mine was a non-malignant brain tumor."

Ron added, "I've had prostate cancer, also I have heavy metals in my system."

And they are not alone.

"Our well at the time was the highest for hexavalent chromium," said neighbor Kim Brewer.

The mother of four has two daughters -- 3-year-old Laney and 5-year-old Ava -- who were both born with birth defects. Her other two children, who were not born in Dukeville, were born without birth defects.

"My middle daughter has Chiari malformation and then my youngest has spina bifida," Brewer said. She said she believes her daughters' conditions are tied directly to water contamination from coal ash.

"At first I kind of blamed myself, that was just my natural thing," Brewer said, "that I failed them as a parent. Then there was anger of course, and now it's time to protect."

Duke Energy, however, contends the drinking water in Dukeville is safe and "there is no concern for public health."

"It's always tragic to hear about health concerns, but there are a lot of reasons that cause health concerns and what we've seen from our data is it's not coming from our coal ash plant," said Jeff Brooks, spokesman for Duke Energy.

The families say they've given up on Duke Energy, and are now urging lawmakers to step in to get the coal ash cleaned up for good.

"None of these senators, or legislators, or even the Governor would want their children drinking water that has hexavalent chromium in it," Brewer said. "No community should have to go through this."

The community has asked for Duke to help install municipal water to their neighborhood. At this point, though, Duke said that is not an option.

"We've not seen any indication from our well sample that there's any issue with drinking water from those communities. So absent of any data to say otherwise, we don't see there’s an issue coming from the coal plant in this regard," Brooks said.

Duke Energy has agreed to re-test the wells with the Waterkeeper Alliance through an independent party and compare the results.

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Jonathan Rodriguez

Jonathan Rodriguez is an investigative reporter and member of the WNCN Investigates team. His storytelling specialty is connecting the dots to get to the truth, with a goal of delivering results for our community. If you have something you’d like WNCN to investigate, contact Jonathan.

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