CHAMPAIGN, IL – Today 18 environmental organizations and community groups representing hundreds of citizens in Illinois sent a letter to U.S. Representative John Shimkus urging the congressman to address failing coal ash pits in the state.
The letter comes six months after an impoundment failure at Duke Energy’s Dan River plant in North Carolina unleashed 140 thousand tons of coal ash and wastewater, devastating the river system and communities downstream. The toxic coal ash contaminated 70 miles of the Dan River, and although Duke Energy deemed cleanup “complete,” nearly 94 percent of the waste still remains in the river.
Coal ash is a dangerous waste product of burning coal at power plants which contains arsenic, chromium, lead, mercury, and a range of harmful heavy metals and hazardous pollutants. When these pollutants enter drinking water, rivers, and streams, they harm human health, aquatic life, and the communities that depend on these water systems.
Illinois is home to 24 coal-fired power plants, many of which were built adjacent to rivers or over groundwater aquifers in order to meet their enormous water needs. As a result, 91 coal ash disposal ponds were built in places that are unsuitable and dangerous for the disposal of toxic waste. Fifty-six ash ponds were built over groundwater recharge areas, 62 over shallow aquifers, and 9 were constructed over wetlands.
Coal Ash Pits on the Middle Fork
While many of these coal ash pits present threats of slow but inevitable discharge into water systems, several hold the potential for catastrophic failure. For example, the retired Dynegy Vermilion Power Station – in Rep. Shimkus’ district – hosts three waste dumps in the floodplain of the Middle Fork of the Vermilion River. Two of the pits were built without liners and have begun to contaminate adjacent groundwater. The banks of the impoundment are also vulnerable to flooding and erosion of the river, threatening to unleash 3 million cubic yards of coal ash downstream.
The Dynegy Vermilion site is described in a recent report on the company’s pollution sites across the state.
The letter, sent by environmental organizations and community groups across Illinois, urges Rep. Shimkus to hold a hearing within the Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy to ensure that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is doing everything possible to effectively address the threat of coal ash to American communities nationwide.
“We believe it is your responsibility to ensure that your constituents and the nation are safe from preventable coal ash disasters,” the groups wrote in the letter, and to hear “from affected communities how these dangerous ponds harm their health, environment and the economic well-being.”
Read a copy of the letter here.