The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposal to cut carbon emission by 30 percent by 2030 from existing power plants is a monumental step in the right direction. This proposal will significantly improve the air quality in Indianapolis. It gives a ray of hope for thousands of Hoosiers who are suffering from chronic health issues like asthma.
But I would like to draw your attention to a less frequently discussed problem related to coal-fired power plants, and that is deteriorating water quality. I was shocked to read a recently published report by the Hoosier Environmental Council on the risk of coal ash disposal in our community. The Harding Street coal-fired power plant near the White River has seven active coal ash ponds without protective liners in the vicinity of key underground water reservoirs, a primary source of drinking water for thousands of residents. Historic county health department records show groundwater underneath the ponds is contaminated, but there’s no active monitoring of groundwater on the IPL property and no plans to protect nearby drinking water supplies from exposure to toxic coal ash pollution.
As a public and environmental health professional, it concerns me that our water supply is threatened by toxic and persistent chemicals. Coal ash waste contains mercury, arsenic, lead and other toxic chemicals known to harm human health. An EPA study reveals that prolonged exposure to coal ash-contaminated water may increase the chance of getting cancer as high as one in 50, 2,000 times higher than EPA’s standard of reduced cancer risk. I am even more concerned about the children’s health, because they are more susceptible to having adverse health outcomes such as reduced IQs, learning disabilities and neurological disorders.
The safest and most practical option is to focus on prevention. Indianapolis Power & Light can prevent further deterioration of our precious water reservoirs and protect public health by making a plan to stop burning coal at the Harding Street plant, close and clean up the coal ash ponds, and invest in more clean energy such as wind and solar. I urge the City-County Council, community health partners, city leaders and IPL to join hands for a safer tomorrow.