The battle of the Dukes: Better science vs ambiguous results

When solving the mystery of coal ash contamination is not a priority:

Prominent Duke University water-quality researcher Avner Vengosh and several colleagues developed a “forensic tracer” test last year that promises to identify with great accuracy whether coal ash is the culprit in individual cases of water pollution. “The isotopic signature of boron coming from coal ash is always different from naturally occurring boron or boron from other sources,” added Laura Ruhl, Vengosh’s partner in the research and a professor of earth sciences at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

Drew Elliot, DENR’s communications director, said agency officials would welcome more and better testing tools, but they are under “aggressive deadlines” set by North Carolina’s new coal ash law. They can’t meet those deadlines if they detour to add a new series of tests, he said. The state’s preferred methodology for deciding whether coal ash is causing water pollution is to look for obvious, chemical clues in the well samples, he said.

And that "preferred methodology" is ineffective. Ignoring the isotopic signature of the contaminant is like ignoring fingerprints at a crime scene. It only makes sense if you're trying to protect the perpetrator.