October 18, 2021

Report: Coal-fired power plants have contaminated groundwater across Illinois, Will County

Several coal-fired power plants in Illinois, including some in Will County, have contaminated groundwater with unsafe levels of toxic pollutants, according to a new report.

The Environmental Integrity Project, Earthjustice, Prairie Rivers Network and the Sierra Club examined the data and found that about 90 percent (22 of 24) of the state’s reporting plants have contaminated groundwater with “unsafe levels of one or more toxic pollutants.”

According to the report, the state of Illinois began developing rules to protect against pollution from coal ash ponds in 2013, but the unfinished rules were abandoned, allowing pollution to continue. The plant owners disposed of millions of tons of toxic coal ash.

The Des Plaines River, one of the main bodies of water with coal ash, expands past both the Will County Generation Station in unincorporated Will County near Romeoville and Joliet 9 and 29, which both have documented groundwater impacts.

At the Will County Generating Station, owned and operated by Midwest Generation, there are four unlined ash ponds. According to the report, Midwest Generation monitors the groundwater around all four coal ash ponds, but the company stopped using two of them around 2010 and, therefore, claims they are not subject to the coal ash rule. The writers of the report said they disagree with Midwest Generation’s belief, but the plant still only reported data on two of the ponds.

According to the report, that through the contamination coming from the coal ash ponds and the coal ash fill at the plant, the groundwater has unsafe levels of several coal ash constituents, including arsenic, boron and sulfate. According to the report, that Midwest Generation plans to close the two ash ponds it still uses by removal of the ash, but it isn’t enough.

Midwest Generation also operates two power plants on either side of the Des Plaines River in Joliet. The one on the south side is known as Joliet 9 and the one on the north is known as Joliet 29. According to the report, Joliet 9 is an old quarry (and refers to it as the “Lincoln Stone Quarry”) that is now filled with water and coal ash.

The site is one of the most contaminated in the state, according to the report. The contamination tends to flow south because of the water in the area, away from the Des Plaines River and toward residential areas, although Midwest Generation has installed a system to extract the contaminated groundwater and pump it back to the quarry. The groundwater near Joliet 9 has anywhere from eight to 23 times the amount of safe levels of several contaminants, according to the report.

Alex Ortiz

Alex Ortiz

Alex Ortiz is a reporter for The Herald-News in Joliet. Originally from Romeoville, Ill., he joined The Herald-News in 2017 and mostly covers Will County government, politics, education and more. He earned his bachelor's degree at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a master's degree from Northwestern University.