SALISBURY, NC (WBTV) - Ronald Thomas and wife Joann live in the house where Ronald was born many years ago. The Leonard Road home, built before the Civil War, is now one of several in a battle pitting about two dozen local residents against one of the biggest power suppliers in the country.
And it's a war over water that until Monday, they thought was safe to drink.
“No, never had a thought, Duke Power had never mentioned that there might be anything in there, we didn't have a clue, you know, just went about our daily business,” Joann Thomas told WBTV. “I feel real used that they did not come to us, us as the community, and talk to us about this.”
Ronald and Joann spoke with WBTV along with their attorney Bill Graham, at the office of Wallace & Graham in Salisbury on Wednesday afternoon.
“They just have not been above board with the community like they should,” Thomas said.
The Thomas family is one of twelve more families to receive letters from the state telling them that their water may not be safe and telling them what was found in testing.
"We have Vanadium and Hexavalent Chromium 6, plus a lot of other chemicals in it, but those are the two we found out in this most recent check," Thomas added.
Duke Power is providing bottled water to residents who live near the Buck Steam Station in Rowan County, after those residents were told that their well water may not be safe for drinking and cooking.
At this point water is not being provided to the Thomas household, and that is a contentious point.
"We haven't got a drop of water from them. We asked them months and months ago to give the community that is involved with this, bottled water, fresh water, clean water because we can't drink the water," Thomas said.
A company spokesperson also said that Duke would consider running a permanent water line to the area, but only after additional studies are completed.
“Our first priority is ensuring public health,” Catherine Butler of Duke Energy told WBTV. “We certainly would consider a water line or more permanent solution if the groundwater assessment we are performing shows neighbors' wells have been influenced by plant operations.”
“The groundwater assessments under way at each site are critical pieces of information that we need before we could make a determination about whether a permanent water supply would be needed,” Butler added. “These studies are key because they will help differentiate what amount of these parameters is naturally occurring and what amount, if any, may be contributed by plant operations.”
“Bottled water is a temporary step to ensure peace of mind while the full evaluation takes place, and we'll evaluate if a more permanent solution is needed based on the scientific data,” Butler said.
Last week twenty two residents in the area received a letter advising them to stop using their well water for drinking and cooking.
“I received a letter from the state of North Carolina Saturday saying that my water was not safe to drink, so I had to go out and get water," Deborah Graham told WBTV last week after receiving one of the letters. “I was just scared, nervous and scared, you know, you use your water everyday.”
32 wells in the Dukeville community have been declared unsafe for providing water for drinking and cooking. The determination was made by the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
More test results are scheduled to be delivered. 51 wells near Buck Steam Station participated in testing mandated by the 2014 Coal Ash Management Act.
Rowan County Environmental Health Manager Tad Helmstetler confirmed that more than 20 families in the affected area are getting letters advising them not to consume their water.
“If your water does not meet the standards, why jeopardize your health. It may be that there would be no effect but it could be that you make yourself very sick or perhaps poison yourself," Helmstetler told WBTV last week. “Buy your bottle water. Flushing your toilet, washing your clothes, that's fine, cooking, drinking, brushing your teeth, use the bottled water for that.”
“These were laboratories investigating the Duke coal ash ponds that exist for the Buck Steam station and these are wells that are within approximately, I believe it's a one mile radius of the coal ash ponds," Helmstetler added.
Along with private homes, Yadkin Grove Baptist Church also received a letter asking it to not use well water for drinking.
Several of the letters cite high levels of vanadium, a naturally occurring element found in coal classified as hazardous by federal health officials.
"Well it may be natural to a certain degree, but I don't think the ratings that people have down there, no, I don't think that would be natural, I think it's coming from the plant and I hope that some day prove that that's where it's coming from for sure," Thomas added.
Duke Energy says the wells still meet the criteria for the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, which regulates public drinking water.
"In past health evaluations last year, the state determined that vanadium concentrations below 18 ppb are protective of human health. In these current evaluations, the state is using a much lower 0.3 ppb limit called the "interim maximum allowable concentration." There is currently no EPA drinking water standard for vanadium," Duke said in a statement to WBTV.
They added, "Vanadium also is not part of the suite of constituents that the new federal CCR rule monitors, because it is typically not associated with coal ash but more with petroleum and oil products."
Ronald Thomas says he's had one encounter with an official who told him that the water from his well was fine.
"He said he did not see any problem with the water and I said well, I turned on the faucet and I said well here, just have a drink of the water then, he said oh no, that's alright, I don't care for any," Thomas told WBTV.
Thomas, and other neighbors, are concerned that their health may have been compromised by the chemicals found in the water, but acknowledge that no connection has yet been established.
"I think about the people in our community who have been sick, who've died, there's been a lot of tragic situations in our area in such a small area to have so many people with such severe health problems," Thomas said. "It's really a bad situation."
Ronald and Joann Thomas now wonder about the future of their home, and wonder if generations to come will have a place on Leonard Road.