Agreement Outlines Coal Ash Cleanup for Middle Fork Vermilion River


People who spend summers fishing and canoeing on the Middle Fork Vermilion River should be pleased to know its water quality should be improving in the coming years. The State of Illinois reached a cleanup agreement last month with a company accused of polluting the state’s only national scenic river. The settlement requires Dynegy Midwest Generation to clean up toxic coal ash it dumped near the Middle Fork for nearly 60 years. Andrew Rehn, senior water resources engineer for Prairie Rivers Network, an environmental group, explained the path of contamination.

“The coal ash is exposed to rainfall, has water sitting on it, and also has groundwater flowing through it from the nearby uplands,” Rehn outlined. “And all of this leads to seepage that gets into the groundwater and then, that groundwater flows into the Middle Fork.”

The Middle Fork is a 17-mile section of the Vermilion with federal “scenic river” designation. Under the agreement, Dynegy must dig up and move 3 million cubic yards of coal ash sitting in leaking, unlined impoundments to a safer location. According to the law firm Earthjustice, U.S. coal plants produce about 70 million tons of coal ash per year, which contains arsenic, lithium, and other toxic substances. Dynegy has also been ordered to address violations of the Illinois Environmental Protection Act at the former Vermilion Power Station, which closed in 2011. The company must remove the current ash ponds from the flood plain on the Middle Fork, demolish the old power plant on a nearby bluff, and then build a new landfill there for the coal ash.

Rehn acknowledged it is a step in the right direction.

“After years and years and years of work, we’re finally on a path here where the coal ash will be out of the flood plain of the river, which is really important to stop that ongoing pollution.”

Rehn expects the cleanup to take almost 12 years. The American Coal Ash Association said in recent years, more coal ash is being recycled as more coal ash ponds are being closed.

Terri Dee

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