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Environmental Groups Call For Testing Near Coal Ash Ponds

The Hoosier Environmental Council and other organizations say the byproduct of coal burning is a serious threat to the public's health.

coal ash press conference

Photo: Gretchen Frazee

Representatives from nine organizations gathered Monday morning to call for testing of water they say could be contaminated with coal ash. They also unveiled a new billboard directly across the street from IPL's Harding Street Station.

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.

IDEM Water Sample

Gretchen Frazee

Gretchen Frazee is a reporter/producer for WFIU and WTIU news. Prior to her current role, Frazee worked as the associate online content coordinator for WFIU/WTIU. She graduated from the University of Missouri-Columbia where she studied multimedia journalism and anthropology. You can follow her on Twitter @gretchenfrazee.

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  • tadams218

    Drinking water should be tested regardless of the location or surrounding environment. There is nothing unique about the Harding Street plant and no evidence of any damage. This is just an attempt to scare the public as part of the war on coal.

  • Robert

    IDEM only sampled and analyzed for boron and sulphate. There are additional metals which should have been tested (for example, arsenic). Boron appears to have elevated concentrations but data is needed to determine whether there is “evidence of any damage” or simply background concentrations. Other coal ash ponds have leaked into water supplies. Indiana needs to determine whether it is a problem here.

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