Report Calls for Regulation of Sludge Lagoons
May 6, 2014—The Hoosier Environmental Council (HEC) says that newly released data show that coal ash pollution is a serious threat to drinking water in Indiana, and the group is calling for federally-enforceable rules regarding coal ash.
Coal ash is the solid waste produced by burning coal to produce electricity. In Indiana, that waste is often disposed of in man-made ponds called sludge lagoons. The HEC says Indiana is home to 84 sludge lagoons, more than any other state in the nation. Current regulations do not require any lining or barrier in the lagoon to prevent the contaminated water from leaking into groundwater. An an HEC press release called Indiana’s regulations some of the weakest in the country, and noted that “In Indiana, household trash is subject to stricter oversight than is disposal of sludge lagoon-stored toxic coal ash, even though this waste contains hazardous substances, including metals like arsenic and mercury that leach from the ash when it comes into contact with water.”
The new HEC report centers around the Indianapolis Power and Light (IPL) Harding Street Generating Station in downtown Indianapolis. According to HEC, the IPL facility’s eight sludge lagoons are “located in the West Fork White River floodplain above a shallow sand and gravel aquifer which supplies a wellfield for Citizens Water and is also the source of drinking water for a south side neighborhood.” The report indicates that excessive levels of metals, including arsenic, mercury, and boron, have been found in the drinking water there as far back as 1989.
“In Indiana, coal ash sludge lagoons can be and have been built on the banks of our rivers, directly on top of highly vulnerable aquifers that supply drinking water, with no barrier between the ash and the groundwater, and with no monitoring that would disclose if toxic contamination is occurring,” said Tim Maloney, senior policy director for the Hoosier Environmental Council and lead author of the report, in a press release. “Given all that we know about the dangers of coal ash, this very weak oversight of coal ash sludge lagoons is irresponsible and puts Hoosiers at serious risk.”
In addition to more state and federal oversight of sludge lagoons, the HEC is calling for better monitoring of groundwater near the lagoons. In Indianapolis, the Marion County Health Department has announced it will begin analyzing future private well samples for boron, one of the best indicators for groundwater pollution from coal ash.
“We encourage all city residents who rely on wells for their drinking water and live near the Harding Street power plant to contact the Health Department and request that their wells be tested,” said Maloney.