Illinois coal ash sludge ponds are common

Michael Hawthorne alerts us that Illinois is at risk for a coal ash disaster as well.

Withered and Died

More than a dozen Illinois power plants store toxic coal ash in sludge ponds similar to the one that burst and spread contaminated muck over 300 acres of eastern Tennessee last month, according to a Tribune review of federal records.

The sludge dumps, all Downstate, are among hundreds of makeshift ponds across the nation that are regulated far more loosely than household garbage landfills, despite years of studies documenting how arsenic, lead, mercury and other heavy metals in the coal ash threaten water supplies and human health.

Most of the water-soaked ash—the byproduct of burning coal to generate electricity—is stored close to bodies of water, including Lake Michigan, Lake Erie, the Mississippi River and the Illinois River.

[From Coal ash sludge ponds in use at some Illinois power plants —]

The administration of President Obama might be more interested in monitoring this potentially hazardous problem, but nobody really knows yet. Obama received a lot of campaign contributions from Exelon. Also, leaks don’t have to be quick to be dangerous, slow and steady contamination is just as deadly.

The dangers here are two-fold,” said Eric Schaeffer, a former Environmental Protection Agency official who now heads the non-profit Environmental Integrity Project. “You can have the sudden spill and the dramatic disaster that Kingston represents, or you can have slow poisoning as these impoundments leach toxic metals.”

Red and Green

Illinois is in the top ten in a dubious category:

14 of the state’s power plants dumped sludge containing a combined 2,826 tons of toxic metals into Downstate sludge ponds during 2006, the last year for which figures are available from the EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory.

Only nine other states dumped more toxic metals in this way. Alabama led the nation with 6,680 tons; Indiana was fourth with 4,431 tons.

National environmental policies and regulations have to change, lest we all are buried underneath a veritable lake of toxic dust.

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