CHAPEL HILL-Jefferson Post Editor Adam Orr was among the journalists receiving top honors in the 2016 North Carolina AP News Excellence Contest on Feb. 25.
The AP awards were presented during the North Carolina Press Association Winter Institute in Chapel Hill. The awards honor the best newspaper writing and editing by daily newspapers in the state in 2015.
Gaston Gazette News Editor Ragan Robinson and Orr won the Carl K. Bell Editing Award, named after a former AP bureau chief in North Carolina for their story, “Have We Been Too Soft on Duke.” Orr was a business reporter for the Gaston Gazette at the time the article was published.
The May 2015 story was one in a series of Gazette reports that examined contaminated well water near a Duke Energy coal-fired power plant in Belmont.
The Coal Ash Management Act of 2014 required Duke Energy to contract with private labs to collect samples at wells within 1,500 feet of power plants with coal ash ponds. Many of those tests were completed in the spring of 2015.
Preliminary results found more than 96 percent of the wells tested near Allen were contaminated with elements like iron, vanadium and hexavalent chromium. That included four wells owned by water supplier Aqua America, which the company estimated served roughly 270 people.
Since the contamination exceeded allowable state limits for the chemicals, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services told well owners not to drink or cook with their water.
Those same letters however, reminded many owners that their wells met federal Safe Drinking Water Act standards, in part because the feds don’t screen for the contaminants health officials warned about. They did not clarify that the EPA has said at least one of the contaminants found in that well water is toxic and can, in some forms, cause cancer.
Robinson and Orr’s story examined those contradictory messages.