Updated Aug. 12, 11:54 a.m.
Nine environmental and health organizations are calling on the Marion County Health Department and Indianapolis Power and Light to test the groundwater near the company’s Harding Street power plant in Indianapolis for contaminants they say could be leaking from coal ash ponds.
Coal ash is the sooty byproduct of burning coal, and Indiana has 74 coal ash ponds scattered throughout the state—that’s more than any other state in the country.
Indra Frank, a doctor with the Indiana Public Health Association, says coal ash poses a real threat to Hoosiers’ drinking water.
“Once coal has been burned, it leaves behind high concentrations of toxic substances—in particular arsenic, mercury, lead, selenium and boron so that material ought to be handled as a hazardous waste,” she says.
The Indiana Department of Environmental Management in April tested water in a sand a gravel pit just south of IPL’s coal ash ponds near Harding Street.
The tests (page 9-10) show boron levels at 4,250 parts per billion. The EPA generally declares an area in need of immediate cleanup if levels above 900 ppb are found and it is likely to contaminate nearby drinking water.
The Sierra Club’s Indiana representative Jodi Perras says the area is not used for drinking water, but she and her colleagues are concerned the contamination will spread and affect nearby drinking water wells.
Representatives from the Hoosier Environmental Council, which is spearheading the call to action, says a Marion County ordinance allows the county’s health department to mandate testing at certain lagoons or ponds if the department believes they could pose a health risk.
In a statement, IPL said it is committed to operating and maintaining the ash ponds safely.
“There is no evidence indicating that IPL’s ash ponds are contaminating groundwater,” the statement reads. “The groundwater aquifer located near the Harding Street Generation Station ash ponds does not serve as a public drinking water source. Additionally, IPL meets all EPA requirements at all of our generation locations, including Harding Street Generation Station, where we are currently working to meet new EPA mandates.”
The Environmental Protection Agency does not consider coal ash a hazardous material and therefore doesn’t require testing to see if its contaminating the water, but it has promised to develop some sort of regulations for the disposal of coal ash by the end of the year.