Dr. Indra Frank (at podium) with others asking for more testing of coal ash in ground water (wibc.com photo: Ray Steele)
Environmental groups want the Marion County Public Health Department to make utilities test ground water for coal ash contamination.
Nine organizations sent a letter to the health department asking them to force Indianapolis Power and light to resume testing the groundwater near it's power plant on Harding Street. The plant generates electricity in part by burning coal, and IPL maintains eight lagoons which hold the coal ash left over from the spent coal. "We know that (testing) happened there until at least 1989, and we'd like to see resumed testing there because of our belief that there continues to be contamination," said Jesse Kharbanda, Executive Director of the Hoosier Environmental Council.
Though there is no official proof of that contamination, Kharbanda said the Indiana Department of Environmental Management recently carried out tests near the plant, "and from that concluded that for one constituent, the contamination was higher than the water quality standard," Kharbanda said. He adds the lagoons are near several water wells as well as a large aquifer that supplies drinking water to the area. The council says seven of the eight lagoons do not contain liners, which he says means there is no barrier between the ash and groundwater.
Coal ash contains many heavy metals and other substances that can be harmful if ingested. "The ones we'd be worried most about are arsenic, mercury and lead," said Dr. Indra Frank, who teaches at IUPUI's School of Public Health. "Mercury and lead are both toxic to the nervous system, and especially so for a developing baby or young child. You could lower a child's IQ or produce behavior problems."
IPL has said in the past that it is compliant with all state and local laws on the storage of coal ash. The Health Department says it has done water sampling of private wells in the area of the IPL Harding Street plant, including a sampling (on July 30) of 28 residential wells that serve homes in the nearby Sunshine Gardens neighborhood. We are waiting on chemical results for those samples.