by Christopher Ayers and Jill Sheridan
Nine Indiana environmental groups used Indianapolis Power and Light’s Harding Street power plant as a backdrop Monday for a billboard unveiling aimed at drawing attention to what they claim is a threat to Indianapolis’ drinking water.
The billboard shows two pictures. One is of a bucket containing liquefied coal ash and another of a girl drinking from a water fountain with the words “Coal Ash and Drinking Water Don’t Mix.” It’s meant to draw attention to the ponds used to store coal ash ‒ combusted coal’s byproduct ‒ surrounding the South Harding Street facility.
The Indiana Public Health Association’s Dr. Indra Frank says coal ash is known to have high concentrations of toxic substances.
“Arsenic is a carcinogen it increases the risk for cancer of the skin, bladder, liver and lungs," he said. "Mercury and lead are both neurotoxins. They’re toxic to the brain and especially so for young children.”
There are 74 coal ash ponds scattered throughout Indiana ‒ more than in any other state in the country.
Hoosier Environmental Council Policy Director Tim Maloney says the group is calling on IPL to transition to safer methods of coal ash disposal like dry handling, saying the posed risk from coal ash is exacerbated when mixed with water.
"The principal reason there’s an environmental risk from coal ash disposal and management is when it comes into contact with water and leaches contaminants into our water supply,”he said.
The Environmental Protection Agency doesn’t consider coal ash a toxic substance meaning there’s no federal water testing requirement, but it has promised to lay out some sort of coal ash disposal guidelines by the end of this year.
IPL responded in a statement, saying it’s committed to operating and maintaining the ash ponds safely and that the groundwater aquifer does not serve as a drinking water source. It also says it meets all EPA requirements for coal ash storage and is currently awaiting new EPA mandates.