Toxic waste from 22 coal plants in Illinois puts drinking water for nearby communities at risk, reports show

CHICAGO — Toxic waste contaminates water sources near all but two of the coal-fired power plants in Illinois, according to a new analysis based largely on testing conducted by energy companies.
Most of the waste in Illinois has been mixed with water and pumped into unlined pits, where testing shows harmful levels of arsenic, chromium, lead and other heavy metals are steadily oozing through the ground toward lakes and rivers, including the state’s only national scenic river.
Another is a Joliet quarry where ComEd and other companies dumped coal ash until NRG overhauled a nearby coal plant in 2016 to burn natural gas.
Ten of the sites pose a danger to the drinking water supplies of nearby communities, according to the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, including the Joliet dump and ash pits surrounding another NRG coal plant along the Des Plaines River in Romeoville.
Nonprofit groups behind the new report, including the Environmental Integrity Project and the Sierra Club, are urging Democrat J.B. Pritzker, the state’s next governor, to require coal plant owners to stop polluting the state’s protected waters and to set aside money to clean up their pits of hazardous coal ash.
Former Democratic Gov.
In August, a key federal appeals court handed down a scathing ruling that regulations adopted during the Obama administration weren’t tough enough and did nothing to prevent leaks at scores of ash pits near shuttered coal plants.
But the Trump administration is pushing to replace the Obama-era regulations with an even weaker set of requirements.
Most of the coal plants in Illinois are owned by two companies, New Jersey-based NRG and Houston-based Vistra Energy.
Vistra-owned sites include unlined pits in the floodplain of the Middle Fork of the Vermilion River, the state’s only national scenic river.

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