The Daily Fix: Coal Ash Pits Poisoning Locals, Dual Tornadoes Hit Nebraska, and NRA Wants More Armed Kids

All the news that’s fit to fix on Tuesday, June 17.

Jim Rogers, CEO of Duke Energy, speaks during the Charlotte Chamber’s Economic Outlook Conference in Charlotte, N.C., on Dec. 17, 2012. (Photo: Chris Keane/Reuters)

TakePart News Editor Shaya Tayefe Mohajer is a journalist who has worked in many corners of the world for major news organizations.

Since 1926, Duke Energy has been burning coal to produce electricity at Buck Steam Station in North Carolina, and for more than 80 years, the Thomas family has lived on a farm next door.

The Thomas family home is right next to “three open-air pits containing 6.1 million tons of ash from the coal-fired boilers,” The Associated Press reported.

For years, Duke has been telling the Thomas family their water is safe from coal ash, the byproduct of burned coal that contains “a witch’s brew of toxic substances, including arsenic, selenium, chromium, beryllium, thallium, mercury, cadmium and lead,” as the AP put it.

Yet, generation after generation of the Thomas family kept getting sick—tumors and cancer kept spreading through their ranks, causing deaths and suffering. In the 1990s, a radiologist said there were nearly a dozen cases of brain cancer discovered in those who worked at Buck Steam Station or lived nearby. 

But direct links were difficult to uncover and prove, and the energy company touted its own test results that the local water was just fine. Duke spokesperson Erin Culbert told local residents, “If we had any indications that we see with concerns to your health, Duke Energy would be proactive.”

But Duke’s test results conflict with those found by Waterkeeper Alliance, an environmental group that reports some high levels of potentially toxic substances.

And the AP commissioned its own tests of the water in March, April, and May. It found hexavalent chromium—which you may recall as the memorable villain in the film Erin Brockovich—at the Thomas farm in and 14 wells used by nearby homes, at acceptable amounts.

But water from the Thomases’ kitchen faucet contained chromium at four times the state limit.

Proposed legislation in North Carolina would require the closure or sealing of all of Duke Energy’s coal ash pits by 2029. Duke is airing concern, saying it will take twice that long to do it.

In other news... 

  • Double Trouble: Dual tornadoes flattened a tiny farming town in Nebraska on Monday, killing a 5-year-old girl and a motorist and leaving smashed grain bins and destroyed homes in its wake. (via ABC News
     
  • Red Tape: Students graduating from top American colleges are adorning caps and gowns with red tape to draw attention to problems with campus rape—Stanford, Harvard, and Columbia grads have engaged in the silent protest. (via CBS News
     
  • Troops to Iraq: President Barack Obama says he’ll send up to 275 troops to help the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and consulates in Iraq relocate staff. (via Politico)
     
  • Barefaced Embarrassment: A teenager in South Carolina was forced to remove his makeup before taking a photo for a driver’s license at the DMV and was told to look more like a boy.  (via Fox43 News
     
  • NRA vs. Pediatricians: The gun lobby group really wants kids from 5 to 12 to have guns; pediatricians say that’s a terrible idea because of gun violence. Fight! (via Slate
     
  • Drought Situation Dire: Three years of dry skies have had researchers scrambling to figure out how to cope with California’s drought. They’ve come up with some easy-to-implement ideas. (via Mother Jones

The Daily Fix is your chance to act today to change tomorrows headlines by taking action on the latest stories. Look for links to petitions, pledges, and other social actions embedded throughout these news items. Tweet your #TheDailyFix ideas to News Editor Shaya Tayefe Mohajer.

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