Coal ash is the material left after burning coal.
It contains heavy metals that can contaminate water. Indiana has been producing millions of tons of coal ash per year much of which is now stored in massive open-air impoundments in the floodplains of rivers or Lake Michigan.
Report Shows IN Lags Far Behind in Coal Ash Cleanup
In 2014 the Hoosier Environmental Council published Our Waters at Risk about the impact of coal ash on Indiana’s water resources. In the years since the publication of Our Waters at Risk, the regulatory framework for coal ash has changed completely with the first ever federal rule on coal ash disposal, the Coal Combustion Residuals Rule or CCR Rule. On November 12, read our 2020 report, which provides an update on what has been learned about coal ash and water in Indiana since then.
The Hoosier Environmental Council’s work on coal ash receives generous support from the Energy Foundation, the McKinney Family Foundation, and the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust.
Coal ash contaminates groundwater and its disposal in floodplains puts Lake Michigan and Indiana’s rivers at risk. The safest disposal of coal ash is in engineered landfills on high ground with liners and leachate collection systems. (photo credit: © 2016 BlairPhotoEVV)
Millions of tons of coal ash are generated every year in Indiana. Much of this ash is dumped in surface impoundments (or ponds) that are located directly above shallow aquifers and built without liners to protect these groundwater resources. All of the unlined coal ash ponds where groundwater has been tested have shown contamination of the underlying groundwater beyond drinking water standards.Because power plants are located next to sources of cooling water, surface waters are also at risk. The majority of the coal ash disposal sites in Indiana are in the floodplain of Lake Michigan or the Kankakee, Wabash, White, or Ohio Rivers.
Coal ash is most safely disposed of in engineered landfills on high ground with composite liners and leachate collection systems.
Several utility companies in Indiana have web pages where they report on their coal ash compliance.
May 5th, 2020 News: HEC legal victory holds IDEM to strict compliance with public notice requirements
In addition to pursuing legal action when environmental protection standards are violated, HEC also brings court challenges, when necessary, to ensure compliance with administrative procedures for keeping the public informed and engaged in agency decision-making. Today, we achieved a legal victory on the latter front! For years, HEC and our partner organizations have been reviewing and commenting on proposals submitted by Indiana’s coal-fired power plants for cleaning up or “closing” their many coal ash dumps across the state. The concern is that some of these proposed closure plans if approved will allow the utility to simply leave vast amounts of coal ash in place even though the waste is contaminating groundwater or nearby waterways. IDEM recently approved one such closure plan for Duke Energy’s Gallagher plant in New Albany but failed to notify HEC and other concerned organizations that had submitted written comments. As a result, by the time HEC learned of IDEM’s decision, the period of time to appeal the closure plan approval had passed. Accordingly, HEC brought the appeal anyway challenging not only the closure plan but also IDEM’s failure to notify HEC. We just learned that the court ruled in our favor on the notice issue allowing the appeal to proceed! Thus we can continue working for a responsible coal ash cleanup at the site that protects groundwater and the Ohio River.
tons of coal ash in 2017 (down from 7.3 million in 2014) (US Energy Information Administration, Form EIA-923 Schedule 8A)
coal ash ponds (active and inactive), more than any other state
Of the coal ash landfills and pond systems in Indiana
have documented groundwater contamination beyond drinking water standards. Many have not tested groundwater, yet.
Coal ash must be disposed of without putting our water resources at risk.
Testing Your Well
In Indiana, there is no regulation of private well water. Well owners are responsible for their own safety when using private well water.
To be on the safe side, HEC recommends getting a well tested if it is within one mile of a coal ash disposal site. The water should be tested for Arsenic, Boron, Cobalt, Lead, Lithium, Molybdenum and Radium. Almost every coal ash disposal site examined so far had exceedances of at least one of these health-based standards in the groundwater. View the complete list of potential coal ash contaminants. Nitrate and bacteria don’t come from coal ash, but as long as you are testing your well, test for them, too. It is important to test wells for nitrate and bacteria regularly.
Coal Ash at Duke Energy Gallagher Generating Station.
On the banks of the Ohio River, in the shadow of Floyds Knobs outside of New Albany, sit eight coal ash disposal sites – 7 surface impoundments (ponds) and one coal ash landfill — containing about 9 1/2 million tons of toxic coal ash. Groundwater has infiltrated the lower levels of the unlined Gallagher Generating Station surface impoundments, saturating the ash, and contaminating the underlying aquifer. The shallow aquifer at this location exchanges water with the Ohio River, so the coal ash contaminants are flowing into the river.
Is Your Well Near Coal Ash?
Most coal ash is disposed of on the power plant property. To find out if your well is near coal ash, view a map of where there are or have been coal-fired power plants in Indiana and find a detailed map of the power plant nearest you.
Groundwater monitoring shows that where ever coal ash is stored without a protective liner under it, it contaminates the groundwater.
The 2015 rule required the utilities to check groundwater under coal ash disposal sites. The first round of groundwater data had to be made public no later than March 2, 2018.
View the Hoosier Environmental Council review of all of the 2018 groundwater reports. The data show that where ever coal ash is stored without a liner under it, the groundwater beneath is contaminated.
The federal rule on coal ash disposal should be protective of human health and the environment.
Coal ash was exempt from most waste disposal laws until the Coal Combustion Residuals Rule (CCR Rule) in 2015. Since there were no requirements prior to 2015, power companies disposed of the ash in the least expensive manner. Ash was placed in unlined landfills and ponds right next to the power plants. Coal-fired power plants need a source of cooling water, so the Indiana plants are located along Lake Michigan or the White, Kankakee, Wabash or Ohio Rivers. Therefore, most of the coal ash is disposed of in the floodplains of Lake Michigan and the rivers.
HEC is advocating for an Indiana rule on coal ash disposal that is protective of human health and the environment.
Shortly after the EPA promulgated the 2015 CCR Rule (coal ash rule), the Indiana Environmental Rules Board adopted the portion of the EPA’s rule on coal ash ponds verbatim into Indiana’s solid waste management rules.
Former Tanner’s Creek Generating Station Update
Read the most recent public reports and filings about this former Indiana & Michigan Power/AEP coal-fired generating station along the Ohio River in Lawrenceburg, Indiana.
The Tanner’s Creek Power Plant ceased producing electricity in May 2015. Since then the property was sold to Commercial Development Company, Inc (doing business as Tanners Creek Development LLC), which assumed responsibility for the coal ash. Tanners Creek Development hopes to use the site to build a new port for Indiana on the Ohio River. Testing to date shows that the groundwater at the site is contaminated with boron, arsenic, and manganese. Water supply wells nearby serve the City of Aurora and the Lawrenceburg, Manchester and Sparta Townships Conservancy District and are at risk from the coal ash. Read recent documents on the Tanners Creek clean up.
Michigan City Coal Ash
NIPSCO is now required by federal law to decide on final disposal of the ash in the Michigan City ash ponds. This final disposal is referred to as “closure”. Their plan is to dig out the ash ponds and send the ash to the Schahfer landfill in Jasper County. A coalition of public interest groups submitted comments about the closure to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management and public comment may be submitted through May 22, 2020. Learn more about Michigan City Coal Ash.
How to Make a Difference
If you live near coal ash and have a well, get your well tested. Find lists of testing laboratories and contaminants in our Testing Your Well section.
Create Your Own Energy
Energy production is still overwhelmingly dominated by fossil fuels, which account for about 90% of its electric generation. That leaves Hoosiers asking what they can do in the face of such a large problem. One plan of action is to embrace homegrown, sustainable energy in your home and community by building your own “power plant” – a wind power system or solar power system to provide energy for your home, church, office or community center. This solution is not as out of reach as it once seemed; find some of the best Indiana-based renewable energy installers, who also happen to be our HEC Green Business partners. Learn more about how Indiana’s laws have changed regarding rooftop solar energy.
Tell IDEM that you want an Indiana coal ash rule that fully protects Indiana’s water resources. As IDEM drafts Indiana’s coal ash rule, you can send your support for water-protective regulation to Rebecca Joniskan, IDEM Section Chief for Solid Waste Permits, firstname.lastname@example.org