Environmental groups warn of coal ash pond contamination - WSIL-TV 3 Southern Illinois

Environmental groups warn of coal ash pond contamination

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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. -- Environmentalists say power plant owners need to do more to prevent groundwater contamination. Their concern is with coal ash ponds, where power plants put the remains of their burned coal.

The groups co-wrote a report, using newly-released data from the federal government. That report claims 22 of the 24 coal ash dump sites in Illinois with available data have released toxic chemicals into groundwater.

The federal government required power companies to start collecting groundwater data near these coal ash ponds in 2015. The first batch of data became available earlier this year.

"These pollutants that we're talking about, these heavy metals, they don't disappear," Jenni Cassel with environmental group Earthjustice said. "They don't dissolve into the environment, they stay there for years and years. And so as long as they remain in contact in water, they will continue to leech out, literally, for hundreds of years."

Environmentalists say the chemicals can cause a number of health problems, like heart disease, brain damage and cancer.

"If we don't act on the coal ash problem now, we risk leaving behind a legacy of groundwater contamination in Illinois communities," Andrew Rehn with Prairie Rivers Network said.

Of the 24 plants listed in the report, the only one in our area is the Marion Power Plant by Lake of Egypt.

The report's author said there are at least six toxic chemicals in the groundwater there: arsenic, cadmium, cobalt, lead, selenium and thallium. Thallium, a chemical that used to be used as rat poison, was found at concentrations up to 150 times what is considered safe. Don Gulley, president of the Southern Illinois Power Cooperative, said the groups mischaracterized how the power plant runs.

"Some of these groups won't be happy until all coal plants are shut down," Gulley said.

He said the plant follows the law and there's no threat to drinking water.

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