A federal court has ordered the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to more strictly regulate a form of pollution from coal fired power plants, including plants in Illinois.
The ruling requires the EPA to establish a timeline to put in place regulations for coal ash, the solid byproduct of burning coal.
Traci Barkley with the Prairie Rivers Network said that until now coal ash was regulated as “solid waste” like garbage, not as “hazardous waste.”
That's even though it contains toxic heavy metals like arsenic, lead, selenium, and mercury.
Barkley said the current rules were made decades ago when less was known about coal ash, and currently coal ash storage ponds and impoundments have fewer safety requirements than landfills.
"So for example there's groundwater monitoring that's required at landfills, there's leachate collection that's required, there's citing characterization that's done prior to building a landfill. The newer ones must be lined. Those are all protections that are not in place right now for this large waste stream of coal ash," Barkley said.
She adds that under existing rules it’s okay to locate coal ash ponds in flood plains.
According to the non-profit Earth Justice, there are 21 contaminated and spill sites across the state. That includes sites near Meredosia, Canton, Havana, and Pekin.
Barkley clarified the federal district court ruling does not itself create new rules for coal ash, but orders the EPA to establish a timeline to create those rules. The court will issue a more detailed ruling within 30 days.
Illinois Public Radio's Scott Stuntz contributed to this report.