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Monroe County and Altamaha Riverkeeper launch investigation into coal ash pollution in groundwater

They're testing residential wells near Georgia Power's Plant Scherer in Juliette

JULIETTE, Ga. — Monroe County has now joined Altahama Riverkeeper's efforts in testing well water in the area and have agreed to launch an investigation.

"I think with the evidence I've gathered so far and other people's studies of that site, the county saw the seriousness of the issue," said Fletcher Sams, executive director of  Altahama Riverkeeper. 

The purpose of the investigation is to gather additional data regarding whether coal ash disposal areas at Plant Scherer have affected residential wells near the plant. 

The county and Altahama Riverkeeper are bringing in an independent environmental consulting firm to collect samples and analyze at an accredited lab, according to the press release. 

Sams says the group is not ready to disclose the name of that firm. However, he noted it's an out-of-state firm that has "national accolades" and has briefed the White House. 

He says testing will start in the next few weeks.

Residents like Mike Pless hope this study will help hold those accountable who need to be.

"It's kind of like you turn on the lights, the cockroaches may have always been there, but as long as the lights were off, nobody knew and nobody cared," Pless said. "But when you turn on the lights, you kind of can't ignore the fact we have a problem, and now we need to do something about it." 

Pless lives just over a mile from the plant. 

"Actually, if you put the [camera] over my shoulder, you can see the smoke stacks from my house," Pless said. 

Pless says every time he and his family goes to town, they bring bottles so they can fill them up with clean drinking water.

"For my family, this well water is our only form of drinking water so there isn't a day that doesn't go by that we're not aware of the fact. Now, if we're drinking water, we may be contributing to our own health issues," Pless said. 

While some Juliette residents -- and now the county -- have been pushing Georgia Power to take action, the utility company says they have complied with federal and state laws relating to the ash pond closures.

Meanwhile, Sams and Pless say that this study will help the community understand the extent of pollution in the town's drinking water.

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Statement from Georgia Power to 13 WMAZ:

"Georgia Power took early action to quickly and safely begin closing all of our ash ponds. We have and will continue to comply with all federal and state laws related to our ash pond closures.

We stand by the data delivered from our 57 groundwater monitoring wells at Plant Scherer, which are sited by third-party professional geologists to detect impacts to water. Based on the extensive data collected and reported to the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD), nothing above a state or federal drinking water standard has been shown on or leaving our property. This groundwater monitoring will continue long after the pond at Plant Scherer is closed.

As we have been throughout this process, Georgia Power will continue to be open and transparent with its data and closure plans."

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