A small crowd of health and environmental advocates gathered in front of U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly’s Indianapolis office in support of federal protection against pollution Wednesday morning. The group is especially concerned about the health consequences of coal ash.
Donnelly will be voting on a number of measures that concern air and water pollution in the coming months, but most speakers ask him to vote to help prevent the possible environmental and health hazards of coal ash ponds.
Cindy Schaefer’s family lived near the Harding Street power plant in Indianapolis, which stopped burning coal earlier this year. She says she is worried about the health impacts for her children.
"I think in this day and age, knowing what we know, I think it’s important to protect and have safeguards to ensure that catastrophes don’t happen," Schaefer said.
Environmental Health Project Director with the Hoosier Environmental Council, Dr. Indra Frank says there are proven links between health problems and coal ash pollution.
"Some of the biggest concerns with coal ash are the heavy metals that can damage the nervous systems, especially concerning with children, and the carcinogens like chromium and arsenic," Frank said.
Indiana has had 10 documented cases of coal ash contamination, the most well know in Pines in northern Indiana, which was declared a federal superfund site.
Indiana has 83 coal ash ponds, about half of them unlined, more than any other state.
The wet coal ash leeking into the ground water is a main concern, but Frank says dry particles in the air can also impact health.
"If the coal ash is dry and is not handled correctly it can blow in the wind, it has fine particles that can impact the health of people’s lungs and it has also been linked to cardiovascular disease," she said.
In 2015, the Clean Power Plan was passed, setting federal standards for power plants and carbon reduction. Last year, Indiana joined a lawsuit against the plan. The Supreme Court is expected to make a decision in the coming months.