A new report shows that toxic waste from coal ash pits in southern Illinois is leaking into the Vermilion River, Illinois most scenic & traveled river. These pits are from a now closed Power Station that was owned by Dynegy Inc.
Back in January Prairie Rivers Network announced, citing problems documented in the Houston-based company’s own internal reports, that it plans to file a suit against Dynegy for repeatedly violating an Obama-era regulation, the Clean Water Act. The group said it decided to challenge the company on its own because federal and state regulators have failed to address well-known hazards at the shuttered plant near Oakwood, about 25 miles east of Urbana.
Pictures from the groups report showed orange colored goo around the river beds at the Middle Fork of the Vermilion River as it meanders just past the former Vermilion Power Station, which was a coal-fired facility built back in the 1950s by Illinois Power and later purchased by Dynegy.
In 2011 just shortly before Dynegy decided to close its plant, it deposited more than 3.3 million yards of ash next to the river. In comparison that would roughly be able to fill up the Empire State Building over 2 times.
Testing by Dynegy and the Prairie Rivers Network shows the multicolored waste oozing into the waterways contain dangerous levels of heavy metals found in coal ash, including arsenic, chromium, iron, lead and manganese.
Back in 2012, Dynegy Inc. was cited by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency for water pollution violations at the site. The case is still currently open in the court system.
The company has suggested it could solve the problem in Vermilion County by capping the waste pits to prevent rain and snowmelt from washing coal ash into the water.
But in a November report by Dynegy that they sent to state regulators, it estimated that the normal flow of the Middle Fork is eroding the river banks by up to 3 feet each year, making it even more likely that the toxic slurry would be exposed below the proposed caps in their plan.
The coal ash pits at the Vermilion Power Plant are called “legacy” ash pits, which are excluded from the protections of EPA’s federal coal ash rule because the power plant retired before the rule went into effect in 2015. Environmental groups, including Earthjustice and Prairie Rivers Network, have argued in a lawsuit pending before the federal appeals court in D.C. that EPA should not have left legacy pits out of the rule.
Even absent strong federal protections for legacy coal ash sites, however, Dynegy still must comply with environmental laws such as the Clean Water Act, which prohibits discharges of pollutants into rivers such as the Middle Fork without a proper permit or that violate Illinois health and environmental standards.
Just a mile away from the closed plant is an entrance to the river where kayakers and rafters go to see the scenic route every summer. This 74.8 mile stretch of river was protected back in 1989 under the National Wild and Scenic Rivers act, which was put in place to protect dozens of endangered species living in the water and surrounding woodlands.
This is sure to be a dragged out battle once again being a fight between the corporations and protecting the environment around.
Featured photo via Prairie Rivers Network Report