Swimming in coal ash 

click to enlarge A coal ash pond at IPL's Harding Street Facility. A new report underscores the risks associated with lax monitoring of such facilities. - COURTESY OF THE HOOSIER ENVIRONMENTAL COUNCIL
  • A coal ash pond at IPL's Harding Street Facility. A new report underscores the risks associated with lax monitoring of such facilities.
  • Courtesy of the Hoosier Environmental Council


Indiana leads the nation in coal ash ponds with its 84 toxic reservoirs. The state's coal industry produced an estimated 6.6 million tons of ash in 2012. A new report, Our Waters at Risk, released Monday by the Hoosier Environmental Council, warns that while federal hazardous waste regulations do not apply to coal ash, "due to mounting evidence of the health and environmental threats posed by poor coal ash disposal practices, the EPA is considering a new federal rule to regulate coal ash disposal in landfills, ponds and lagoons."

The rule is expected by December. Meanwhile, the HEC report notes: "Indiana's record of spills and drinking water contamination is among the worst in the nation: 10 contaminated sites, including a Superfund site that has still not undergone cleanup, and three coal ash spills. What's more, the dams and embankments at Indiana's coal ash ponds have mostly escaped state safety oversight." To complement the land-borne legacy of coal power (which provides 78 percent of the state's electricity), Indiana's atmosphere absorbs almost 35 million pounds in emissions from coal power plants each year.

The report also contained a call to action for Hoosiers based on what the authors suggest is unacceptable risk, given that seven of the eight ash ponds at Indianapolis Power & Light's Harding Street Generating Station in Indianapolis are unlined and located in a floodplain above a shallow sand and gravel aquifer that feeds the local water supply.

"In Indiana, household trash is subject to stricter oversight than is disposal of toxic coal ash, even though coal ash contains life-threatening hazardous substances, including metals like arsenic and mercury that leach from the ash when it comes into contact with water," the report read, before listing the following recommendations:

The Environmental Protection Agency should adopt the so-called "Subtitle C option" as the final federal rule for coal ash disposal; Congress should support not impede EPA's completion of its coal ash rulemaking process and its enforcement of rules governing coal ash disposal; the closure and decommission of coal ash ponds, replaced by modern dry ash handling and disposal system and well-regulated landfills; reduction of Indiana's dependence on coal as an energy source.

The full report contains, among other items, an inventory of and more details about the coal ash ponds at Harding Street.

The HEC released this video with its report:

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Rebecca Townsend

Rebecca Townsend

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Rebecca Townsend served as NUVO news editor from May 2011 to August 2014. During a 20-plus year career, her bylines have appeared in publications ranging from Indiana AgriNews to the Wall Street Journal. Her undergraduate degree is in sociology and anthropology from Earlham College, and her master's is in journalism... more

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