State taking input on coal ash lagoons

Homeowners concerned about drinking water
State taking input on coal ash lagoons
Posted at 5:00 PM, Sep 29, 2016
and last updated 2016-09-29 17:00:58-04

INDIANAPOLIS -- At the urging of environmental groups, the Indiana Department of Environmental Management has extended the deadline for public comment on a controversial plan to close coal ash lagoons at Indianapolis Power and Light’s Harding Street plant.

IDEM set a new deadline for December 5 at the request of Earth Justice, Sierra Club, and the Hoosier Environmental Council, who argued IPL failed to adequately engage the public on the issue.

IPL has filed a plan to close its coal ash lagoons at its Harding Street plant, however environmental groups say the plan does not address underlying groundwater contamination.

The Harding Street plant burned coal up until February 2016, and the byproducts are stored in unlined coal ash lagoons. 

Homeowners and 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."

IPL proposed to close the lagoons by pumping them dry and covering the ash with a plastic membrane and layers of soil.

The Hoosier Environmental Council is concerned the ash will remain in place with no bottom barrier between it and the underlying groundwater, creating a “tea bag effect.”

IPL’s proposed plan indicates the cover should reduce groundwater contaminants, according to IDEM spokesperson Courtney Arango.

IDEM officials will be considering arguments from all sides during the public comment process, said Arango.

The Hoosier Environmental Council is concerned about groundwater test results that show high levels of contaminants.

Water samples were taken at the IPL Harding Street Plant on April 7 and May 26, and records show 88% of the samples exceeded drinking water standards and health advisories for boron, 54% for exceeded for arsenic, and 69% of the samples exceeded standard levels for iron, according to an analysis by the Hoosier Environmental Council.

“IPL's own groundwater sampling shows serious contamination of groundwater underneath the lagoons, and this pollution is being pumped into the White River via the neighboring gravel quarry's dewatering pump,” said Maloney.

Maloney said the test results appear contrary to what IPL told Call 6 Investigates back in April, before the test results were released.

"We are not aware, nor is there any evidence indicating IPL's ash ponds are contaminating groundwater," read the statement from IPL released in April. "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."

To submit your comments on the coal ash closure plan, you can email Kristen Clason with IDEM.

If you are interested in getting your water tested, visit the Indiana State Department of Health's website for a list of certified laboratories or call IDEM directly.

Full statement from IPL:

Currently, IPL is in the preliminary stages of collection groundwater sampling data. To date, IPL has completed two preliminary groundwater monitoring sampling periods. (Please note that a sampling period spans the course of three months.) The groundwater data was included in IPL’s Ash Pond System Closure and Post-Closure Plan submitted to IDEM on July 29, 2016. The Closure Plan and associated groundwater monitoring data from these two preliminary sampling periods are available for public review online via IDEM’s virtual file cabinet. Hard copies are also available at the Indianapolis Central Library as well as Garfield Public Library on Indianapolis’ south side. The Federal Coal Combustion Residuals Rule (“CCR Rule”) requires eight (8) groundwater monitoring sampling periods, which IPL will complete by October 2017. The completed groundwater data will be analyzed in compliance with the CCR rule as well as State of Indiana requirements. For additional information about the CCR Rule groundwater monitoring requirements, please see 40 CFR §257.90-98.