Well water near power plant contaminated: We Energies supplying bottled water to affected residents while seeking source

Posted on June 29, 2010. Filed under: Coal, Generation Plants |

From an article by Christine Won in The Journal Times (Racine):

CALEDONIA — Some residents near the Oak Creek power plant have not had access to drinking water since last August because their wells have been contaminated.

They have been advised by the state Department of Natural Resources to not drink or cook with the well water because of higher-than-standard levels of a dissolved metal called molybdenum.

Instead, they’ve been drinking and cooking with the water bottles supplied to them by We Energies “as a courtesy and precautionary measure.”

“It is possible that molybdenum is naturally occurring at these levels in your well water, or it could represent impacts from coal ash fills in the area,” reads a letter from Kristine Krause, vice president-environmental at Wisconsin Energy Corp., dated Aug. 24.

The state groundwater standard for molybdenum, set in 2006, is 40 micrograms per liter. The residents along County Line Road or Douglas Avenue are finding higher levels, even up to triple the standard in one case.

Frank Bink’s water sample read 113 micrograms per liter on Aug. 26, according to an Oct. 5 letter from We Energies. Because it was so high, they tested it again — it read 124 micrograms per liter on Sept. 25.

“Had I known … I wouldn’t have built out here,” says Bink, who’s 84, retired and has lived at his house on County Line Road near the plant for 51 years.

Out of the 27 residential wells We Energies tested since 2007, 14 of those showed higher concentrations of molybdenum than the state standard. Test results ranged from 3 micrograms per liter to 58, plus two farther away at 89 and 124 micrograms per liter, according to the company.

The company has taken a proactive approach to be a good neighbor, spokesman Barry McNulty said, by testing the water regularly, immediately alerting the state and going door-to-door to personally notify residents. That goes along with providing bottled water while trying to determine the extent of molybdenum in the groundwater, he said, because it is not clear whether the source is natural or manmade.

“We feel the right thing is to provide bottled water to those customers until we can conclude that in fact it is not We Energies in any way contributing to that,” McNulty said.

Preliminary data indicates no molybdenum is migrating from the ash fills toward the residential wells, he said, adding groundwater in the area has been shown to flow primarily to the east toward Lake Michigan.

A state hydrogeologist will study the results of the state’s two sampling rounds to determine how widespread the contamination is, how severe and what the source of the contamination may be, said Rhonda Volz, regional drinking water and groundwater supervisor for the DNR.

“It’s a tough position for people who have wells in the area to be in,” Volz said. “That’s why we are trying to help them.”


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