Environmental groups from throughout Illinois will meet with the Illinois Pollution Control Board on Wednesday to discuss stricter rules and regulations of contamination levels near power plants with coal ash ponds.
Harmful chemicals were found in the local groundwater, such as arsenic, iron, mercury, lead and other contaminants, as well as large amounts of discarded ash, according to an examination report by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. These coal ash ponds are collections of discharged ash from coal fire-based plants that can build up in designated areas, such as landfills, mines and ponds.
The Illinois Chapter for the Sierra Club also reported that further examination of groundwater near coal ash ponds in Illinois showed high levels of contamination.
“All the coal ash pits in Illinois that have been investigated by the [Environmental Protection Agency] have been found to be contaminating groundwater,” said Cindy Skrukrud, a clean water advocate for the Illinois Chapter of Sierra Club. “We also know pits are indirectly and directly contaminating rivers.”
The Sierra Club contacted the Environmental Integrity Project for representation in the hearings soon after there were signs of water contamination near some coal fired-based plants.
The coalition of groups in favor of the testimonies came after the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency proposed draft regulations for closing ash pits statewide.
The issue, according to Russ, was brought up by Ameren Illinois, an electric company based in Missouri that serves most of central and southern Illinois. The company submitted a proposal to the Illinois EPA in 2010, proposing quality suggestions to evaluate their own coal ash ponds at their Venice, Ill. station.
Russ said Ameren Illinois was hoping to set a standard that would benefit their current coal ash pond standards.
“They were trying to be pro-active,” Russ said. “They knew either the state or federal government would eventually set a standard and they wanted to set that standard.”
However, Ameren did not have the power to set the standard because the state creates environmental rules and regulations. The Illinois EPA took over and created the proposal for a state standard.
“The Illinois EPA has developed draft rule making to apply to coal combustion waste surface impoundments,” said Kim Biggs, a spokesperson for the Illinois EPA. “The proposed rule includes provisions for groundwater monitoring, weekly inspections, annual reports, preventative response, corrective action and closure.”
Biggs said that operators of coal ash ponds must meet the requirements set forth. If not, the operators must either provide corrective action proposals or proceed to close down the pond.
Currently, Illinois does not have any regulation for safely maintaining ash pits, and it also does not mandate regular checks on the possibility of polluted water. The standard proposed by the Illinois EPA would categorize plants’ ash ponds based on how much pollution goes back into the communities, as well as other pollutant factors. Any plants that do not meet this standard will be forced to shut down their ash pond pits and find new methods of disposal.
The hearings, which will take place in Springfield, will allow testimonies from groups for a proposed standard. Many of the groups for a lower standard will include major power plant companies throughout the state. The results from the hearings would determine whether many coal fire-based companies that dispose ash into pits and landfills will have to close their pits based on the new standard.
Armstrong has been working with the coalition to submit the questions that will be addressed at the hearing. The coalition is concerned about the current conditions of the coal fire power plants, which are considered harmful to the public health. According to Armstrong, some of the ash ponds are old and leaking contaminants into the local groundwater. The coalition’s work is hoping to help deal with the contamination safely and quickly.
In addition to the hearings in Springfield, Joanne Olsen, assistant counsel for the Illinois EPA, said there will also be hearings in Chicago on May 14 and 15.