There are 90 aging coal ash pits in Illinois — piles of slag left behind when coal is burned for energy, most often electricity. Coal ash residue is starting to show up in the water supply.
Groups like the Sierra Club of Illinois and the Prairie Rivers Network have joined forces, lobbying Illinois government for accountability for energy suppliers. One of those energy suppliers is Dynegy, which has several plants in Illinois. For Urbana resident Eileen Borgia, the plant and its coal ash pit is an unwelcome presence on her nature excursions near Kickapoo State Park.
"Well, it's very disconcerting to people and many people feel like they're not being heard. That they're a rural community and nobody cares about this particular of this orange effluent that is visible there," Borgia said.
That 'orange effluent' Borgia refers to is an orangey glow in the water. She sees it trickling out of pipes when kayaking down the Middle Fork River, west of Danville.
Borgia, who's with Prairie Rivers, says power companies ought to take financial responsibility for both water pollution from coal ash pits and cleaning up the areas the pits occupy. the clean-up of coal ash pits. Cleaning this water is expensive, but Traci Barkley, a water resources scientist with Prairie Rivers, says the risk of exposure to heavy metals like mercury, lead and arsenic is too great.
"Many of these coal ash pits really shouldn't have been built where they were in the first place and leave communities vulnerable," Barkley said.
The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and the Pollution Control Board met with advocates in Springfield this week to craft appropriate legislative demands. They'll meet later this spring in Chicago.