Environmental Groups Claim Energy Company Polluting Vermilion River
Two environmental groups in Illinois say they plan to sue the energy company Dynegy for allowing toxic waste to leak into the Middle Fork of the Vermilion River.
Prairie Rivers Network is the Illinois affiliate of the National Wildlife Federation. Together with the environmental law group Earthjustice, the group says Dynegy is at fault for discharging coal ash without a proper permit, which is a violation of the Clean Water Act.
Prairie Rivers’ engineer Andrew Rehn says that decades of coal burning at the shuttered Dynegy Vermilion Power Plant created millions of tons of coal ash, which are stored in pits without liners to protect underlying groundwater.
The ash contains heavy metals including arsenic, barium and chromium, which can seep out and leak into groundwater and nearby rivers. Rehn says that testing performed by Prairie Rivers and Dynegy reveals elevated levels of numerous metals at the Middle Fork, which puts the public at risk.
“The coal ash is seeping through the embankment and into the river,” Rehn says. “This is a surface water contamination issue from Dynegy’s coal ash impoundments.”
The Dynegy Vermilion Power Plant in Oakwood has been closed since 2011. The more than 3 million cubic yards of waste remain spread over a half-mile of land located less than 50 feet from the Middle Fork, Rehn says.
In 2015, the federal EPA moved to regulate how coal ash is managed and disposed of. But the ash pits at the Vermilion power plant are excluded, since it closed before that rule went into effect.
Rehn says Prairie Rivers will not prescribe a particular solution in the notice of intent, although the group believes the coal ash pits will continue to contaminate the river unless they are entirely removed.
The 60-day notice of intent to sue letter is available here.
In a statement, a spokesperson for Dynegy says they have not had an opportunity to review the environmental groups’ claims but "remain focused on working with state and federal regulatory agencies to provide long-term protection of the storage areas at Vermilion, the Middle Fork of the Vermilion River and groundwater resources." He adds the company is working with state and federal regulatory agencies to “provide long-term protection” of the coal ash pits.