Recent Report Reveals Coal Ash Contamination in Illinois Groundwater

Toxic coal ash contamination in local groundwater sources puts the safety of local drinking water into question. Pollution from decades of processes at coal-fired power plants has put the health and safety of Illinois residents in danger. These exposures can cause cancers, heart disease, reproductive damage, and other serious health injuries.

The Size of the Problem

The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency has on file applications for permits that allow millions of pounds of pollutants to be dumped into area water supplies each year. These supplies include lakes, rivers, and streams. In all, these permits cover more than 300,000 pounds of aluminum and 600 pounds of arsenic. They also include 300,000 pounds of boron, 200 pounds of cadmium, and more than 15,000 pounds of manganese. Permits also list more than 1,500 pounds of selenium and 500,000 pounds of nitrogen. The largest pollutant by far is sulfate which accounts for more than 40 million pounds.

Dangers Far Beyond Acceptable Limits

The size of the problem is alarming. At the Midwest Generation’s Waukegan Plant boron levels are sixteen times higher than acceptable safety limits. At the Vermilion plant formerly operated by Dynergy, boron levels are thirteen times greater than acceptable limits.

At the Lincoln Stone Quarry, boron levels are seven times greater than EPA’s established safe threshold. At Dynegy’s coal-fired plant in Hennepin, lithium levels are twelve times safety limits, and both arsenic and boron levels are three times greater than acceptable. At the company’s E.D. Edwards coal-fired plant, lead concentrations were recorded that are eighteen times greater than EPA limits.

Across Illinois, a total of 22 coal ash repositories pose serious health threats to surrounding communities. Exposure to everything from lithium and chromium to arsenic and boron can cause considerable damage to resident’s health. These problems can include the development of cancers, breathing problems, permanent reproductive damage, neurological disorders, and other life-changing and life-threatening events.

Disaster Waiting to Happen

Rules regarding cleanup are loosening and many of the existing impoundments are unlined. As a result, these toxic materials will continue to leach into groundwater for decades to come. Because these water sources flow through the state, every Illinois resident is at risk every time they take a shower, pour a glass of water, do their laundry, or take a dip in the pool.