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Neighborhood worried about drinking water safety

Posted: 1:48 PM, May 16, 2016
Updated: 2016-05-16 23:53:24-04

INDIANAPOLIS -- Some homeowners on Indy's south side are worried about the safety of their drinking water.

"We have a big problem here," said Sonnie Verhines, resident of Sunshine Gardens. "We use mostly bottled water here, that's what we do."

Stella Harper also lives in Sunshine Gardens. Harper showed Call 6 Investigates what she says is a jug full of their water.

“This is a gallon of my water that’s been sitting out for a couple days, as you can see it’s pretty yellow,” said Harper. “We surely don’t drink it.”

Sunshine Gardens is just south of Indianapolis Power and Light's Harding Street plant,  which burned coal up until this year.

The byproducts are stored in unlined coal ash lagoons.

Environmental groups are concerned coal ash is contaminating the aquifer underneath the lagoons and may spread to the groundwater, which supplies water to parts of the city including Sunshine Gardens.

"Coal ash contains a lot of toxic substances, heavy metals like arsenic and mercury," said Tim Maloney, Senior Policy Director for the Hoosier Environmental Council. "It's a demonstrated problem. We know from historical data and some recent sampling that there is high levels of contamination underneath coal ash lagoons."

Residents like Harper and Verhines are concerned about the long-term health effects.

“I have skin irritations from the water,” said Verhines.

The Hoosier Environmental Council is calling on the Indiana Department of Environmental Management to do more testing.

A spokesman for IDEM says they are evaluating IPL’s Harding Street facility.

“We’re optimistic if they close the ponds with a landfill cap that will stop any groundwater contamination and there will be no issue,” said Jack Sewell, IDEM Branch Chief for the Office of Land Quality. “IPL recently installed monitoring wells and we’re expecting the results from the first round of monitoring in the next few weeks.”

Sewell says they are working on a closure plan for the coal ash ponds.

"They will have a 30-year period of groundwater monitoring," said Sewell. "It appears to us that the quarry that sits between Sunshine Gardens and IPL presents a physical barrier to ground water flow from IPL to the neighborhood."

IDEM is  currently collecting public comment on the coal ash issue.   They will also hold a public hearing on June 16, from 1 to 2pm, at the Indiana Government Center.

IPL told Call 6 Investigates they meet all federal EPA requirements for their generation locations.

"We are not aware, nor is there any evidence indicating IPL's ash ponds are contaminating groundwater," read the statement from IPL. "The groundwater aquifer located near the Harding Street ash ponds does not serve as a public drinking water source. Further, there does not appear to be any data indicating that any drinking water supply wells have concentrations above background concentrations that could be attributable to Harding Street's ash ponds." (see full statement at the bottom of this story)

At the request of Call 6 Investigates, the Marion County Public Health Department gathered water samples at Sunshine Gardens.

The results show the water is within the federal Safe Water Drinking Act guidelines, but they did detect coliform, a bacteria often found in well water.

"Due to the presence of coliform in this sample, your well and plumbing must be chlorinated (disinfected) to remove the bacteria in the water," read a letter from the health department. "Please do not drink or cook with the water until it has been treated and we have determined the water to be bacteriologically safe to consume. Using bottled water or boiling water at a rapid boil for at least three to five minutes and storing in clean containers is recommended."

FULL STATEMENT FROM IPL

IPL meets all EPA requirements at all of our generation locations, including Harding Street Generation Station. We are not aware, nor is there any evidence indicating IPL’s ash ponds are contaminating groundwater.  The groundwater aquifer located near the Harding Street ash ponds does not serve as a public drinking water source.  Further, there does not appear to be any data indicating that any drinking water supply wells have concentrations above background concentrations that could be attributable to Harding Street’s ash ponds.

IPL stopped burning coal at Harding Street Station in February of this year.  We are in the process of installing groundwater monitoring wells at Harding Street in accordance with EPA’s recently published new Coal Combustion Residuals Rule and Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) closure requirements. 

Coal ash is regulated by EPA under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act as a non-hazardous waste.  IPL manages the material in accordance with environmental regulations and requirements. Public policy, as determined by laws and regulations, determines the appropriate balance between health and the environment and  IPL complies with those regulations.

We are committed to operating and maintaining all of our ash impoundments safely.  Since the EPA’s recent initiative to evaluate ash pond stability, we have taken several actions which include conducting hydraulic and stability assessments, and development and implementation of operation and maintenance plans, including enhanced inspections programs, emergency action plans, and physical improvements.  These measures have reduced the risk associated with potential releases, in addition to improving our ability to respond in the unlikely event of a release.