Disposal and our tainted groundwater
Newspapers around the state
have recently run stories and editorials about the controversy
surrounding the disposal of coal combustion wastes in orphaned
and active strip mine sites in Indiana. Anyone who
consumes electrical power in Indiana should be concerned about
For the past several years, environmentalists and coal field
activists have fought an uphill battle against Indiana utilities
and coal operators over a proposed rule before the Natural
Resources Commission that we consider seriously flawed.
All we have been asking for is for the commission and the
Department of Natural Resources to listen to sweet reason.
We want the state regulatory agencies to do their jobs and
require those disposing of the proposed hundreds of millions of
tons of this material do so in the same manner that solid waste
haulers dispose of special wastes in landfills.
This would include clay liners on the bottom and sides of the
disposal sites and monitoring wells around the periphery of the
disposal sites so as to protect the groundwater in adjacent
aquifers. We also believe the burden of proof should be
placed on those disposing of these materials and that, if a
heavy metal contamination of adjacent aquifers should occur,
they be held responsible for financial remedies.
Let us consider a hypothetical situation. Assume for a moment
that a utility or a coal operator thought it could get away with
dumping a load of this material into a settling basin in an
Indianapolis water treatment plant. After several weeks,
someone might discover elevated levels of selenium, cadmium,
strontium (some possibly radioactive), boron, nickel and other
heavy metals in drinking water.
If these levels were dangerous enough to threaten human health,
the resulting public outcry would be incredible.
Rural residents living adjacent to the proposed disposal sites
do not have the luxury of television and newspaper reporters
interviewing them to share their feelings in the matter.
Many live far enough away from municipal water sources that it
would be cost prohibitive for them to connect to them. If
their drinking water is spoiled by the corporate polluters,
allowed to do so by nameless bureaucrats in the DNR, they would
be forced to move from their land or haul water into cisterns on
Much of the land affected by the proposed dump sites is drained
by Pigeon Creek, which inevitably enters the Ohio River at
If this rule is passed, for the next decade the regulatory
environment in this state will function like a magnet for
literally hundreds of million of tons of this material from all
over the Midwest, Indiana will once again become a dumping
ground for another form of industrial refuse from adjacent
states, just as it has for special wastes in landfills here in
Most people also do not realize the extent to which this issue
is closely linked with the national trend toward utility
deregulation. Utilities, which recently have been
negotiating long-term contracts with coal operators want to
minimize their costs.
Clay liners and the maintenance of monitoring wells cost money.
With their enormous political power in the state, they think
they can literally bulldoze the interests of the relatively few
people who live in these rural areas. They want these
costs to be minimized regardless of who is harmed in the process
before the state legislature moves to open up the electrical
power grid to competition.
There is an irreconcilable breakdown in values between
proponents of the rule, powerful utilities, coal companies and
those who seek to protect one of Indiana's last remaining
untainted resource treasures: fresh pure groundwater.
The one side places profits and stockholders interest before the
rights of rural residents to have undamaged water wells.
We urge the legislature to take action on this issue.
There is no reason why the protective measures adopted should
not be similar to rules and laws passed in Illinois and
resides in Evansville and is on the board of Save Our Land and
Environment, a southwestern