DANVILLE – Illinois environmental officials believe waste from a closed power plant in eastern Illinois is leaching into groundwater and could wind up in the Middle Fork River.
Contaminants in one or two of the three coal-ash ponds at Dynegy Inc.’s Vermilion Power Station are seeping into groundwater, Illinois Environmental Protection Agency spokesman Andrew Mason said. Coal ash is what’s left behind when coal is burned for power, and can contain a range of toxic substances such as arsenic and selenium.
Mason told The News-Gazette in Champaign that the groundwater under the site eventually makes it into the river, something the company has acknowledged in filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
The 50-year-old power plant, which closed in 2011, is along the river near Kickapoo State Park, just outside Danville. Dynegy is now studying the site as it draws up a proposal to stop the spread of contaminants.
It isn’t clear whether those contaminants are getting into the river yet, Dynegy’s chief administrative officer Carolyn Burke said.
“That’s what the hydrogeologic studies we are doing are focused on,” she said. “We don’t know yet.”
The Middle Fork River was declared a National Scenic River in 1989. That designation prevents development along its banks for 17 miles near Danville, according to the state Department of Natural Resources.
The state EPA in July 2012 cited Dynegy for violating groundwater standards and threatened legal action.
Dynegy and the state are still talking about possible solutions. Dynegy submitted an initial proposal to the state EPA but was asked to alter some of its plans, Burke said, and will resubmit it in November.
Mason said the plan is expected to include the closure of two of the three ponds. The third, which has a clay liner the others lack, would stay open.
Traci Barkley, a water resources scientist with the nonprofit environmental group Prairie Rivers Network, said the plan as proposed isn’t adequate because all three ponds are built in the river’s flood plain. She said she fears contaminants could be washed back into the river in the event of a flood.
She also worries the flow of the river could erode the land between the river and the ponds.
“What if the whole thing breaches and comes into the river?” she asked.