Protecting Our Waters

Action to protect clean water from toxic coal ash

With over 30 legacy coal ash sites in Illinois including some near the shores of Lake Michigan, it’s time for a strong coal ash rule from EPA to protect our waterways and communities.

John J. Mosesso | USGS | Public Domain

Lake Michigan’s clean water is essential to Illinois’ health and welfare. The lake is a fresh drinking water source for millions as well as being a fishing and recreation destination. But waterways in Illinois, including Lake Michigan, are threatened by toxic coal ash sites that are currently not regulated by federal rules.

Coal ash is the residue that is left behind after coal is burned for power and Illinois has lots of it. Coal ash is highly toxic, containing pollutants that can damage the circulatory, respiratory and digestive systems and can lead to neurological and reproductive problems. In the environment, pollutants in coal ash like selenium can build-up in organisms and cause long-term damage to wildlife populations. This toxic residue is sitting in pits around our state leaking toxins like arsenic, mercury and lead into our groundwater. 

The 2015 Coal Ash Rule from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized regulations to manage coal ash disposal, but had exemptions including legacy coal ash ponds and inactive landfills. These older ash ponds, landfills, and fill sites that are currently excluded from federal regulation are often more prone to leak. There are over 30 of these legacy ponds, landfills, and coal ash fill sites in Illinois, including sites that lie near the shores of Lake Michigan.

The EPA has proposed a new coal ash rule that would extend existing coal ash regulations, that ensure responsible clean-up, to older, leakier ash ponds and landfills that previously remained unregulated. Finalizing a strong rule is critical for protecting all of our communities from the toxic threat coal ash poses. EPA is taking comments on this rule until July 17, 2023.

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