News Feature | October 5, 2017

Coal Ash And Water Quality Debate Rages In Indiana

Peter Chawaga - editor

By Peter Chawaga, Associate Editor, Water Online

Coal Pits.Reg

Shortly after the EPA has moved to delay restrictions on coal ash dumping into water sources, concerns have been raised in Indiana about what this pollution is doing to local supplies.

“The coal plants that dot Indiana’s landscape generate much more than electricity. They also produce toxic ash,” reported WHAS11 last week. “When coal is burned, it leaves behind ash that is filled with contaminants such as arsenic, chromium and boron that leach into nearby groundwater and waterways.”

Thus, ash is kept in pits which are often unlined with a barrier to protect the waste from entering groundwater. Indiana has about 85 of these pits, more than any other state.

“Just how much of this polluting powder is stored in these pits? More than 60 million cubic yards,” WHAS11 reported. “It’s a serious problem that needs to be dealt with soon. But it’s how to solve that problem that is the crux of an intense debate happening across the nation — and right now in Indiana.”

Currently, these operations either leave ash in the ground and cover it with a cap or move it to a landfill. Most operations choose the former, as this is cheaper.

As Indiana works through its coal ash problem, it may be creating an example that can be followed around the rest of the country. The state is deciding whether to require their operations to put the ash in landfills or reuse it, as opposed to “capping” it.

“For years, the environmental community has wanted stronger oversight of coal ash — we need to hold everyone accountable and we need to make sure human and environmental health are uppermost in the decisions being made,” Tim Malone, senior policy director with the Hoosier Environmental Council, said, per WHAS11. “Those considerations need to be foremost in what happens here, and time will tell if they are not.”

Environmental pressure is mounting in Indiana and other states, and it may lead to changes in the way that coal ash is handled and its potential to affect water supplies.

“Duke Energy has been keeping the public in the dark about the flooding threats from massive coal-ash ponds at its power plants, including those in Indiana and Kentucky, environmental groups charged,” per the Courier-Journal. “The environmental groups’ targets include the Gallagher plant in New Albany, Indiana, and the East Bend power plant near Rabbit Hash, Kentucky. Both are along the Ohio River, a drinking water source for millions.”

For similar stories visit Water Online’s Water And Wastewater Treatment For The Power Generation Industry Solutions Center.

Image credit: "Tipping yard," Fruhtau © 2012, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/