As new research reveals widespread contamination, pro-coal industries are pushing to weaken federal rules on coal ash and give regulatory authority back to states like Indiana, which has a dismal record on regulating this toxic waste.
As a writer for Earthjustice, I often tell stories about people from across the country who inspire me with their tales of going up against all odds and billion-dollar corporations to protect themselves, their families, and their communities from environmental harm.
Occasionally, the stories I tell hit closer to home.
Recently, I discovered there’s a toxic waste site near my childhood home leaching dangerous chemicals into the groundwater. When I googled “Wheatfield, Indiana,” the location of the site, I was shocked to see it was only about a 40-minute drive from my dad’s house in eastern-central Illinois.
Despite growing up just a stone’s throw from the state line, I’d never thought much about Indiana beyond it being the place where my friends and I used to buy better fireworks.
But it turns out Indiana has another claim to fame that’s sure to create a different kind of spark. Currently, it has more coal ash sites than any other state.
These football-field sized holes in the ground are filled with millions of gallons of dirty ash created by burning coal. The majority of the 86 ash ponds scattered around Indiana are unlined and located next to a water source. All but three of Indiana’s coal plants have coal ash sites located in the 100-year floodplain.
Coal is dirty, as anyone who has ever lived near a coal plant or snagged a few coal nuggets off an idling train will tell you. So it’s no surprise that its byproduct, coal ash, is also full of toxic chemicals. Arsenic, mercury, lead and chromium top the list — and exposure to all of them can cause serious health impacts. […]