May 3, 2023
Toxic Coal Ash in Illinois: Addressing Coal Plants’ Hazardous Legacy
For decades, utilities disposed of coal ash — the hazardous substance left after burning coal for energy — by dumping it in unlined ponds and landfills. Illinois has 76 coal ash dumpsites.
Illinois is one of the nation’s top coal ash-generating states, ranking seventh in ash production in 2020.
Coal ash contains hazardous pollutants including arsenic, boron, cobalt, chromium, lead, lithium, mercury, molybdenum, radium, selenium, and other heavy metals, which have been linked to cancer, heart and thyroid disease, reproductive failure, and neurological harm.
Industry’s own data indicate that across the country 91% of coal plants are currently polluting groundwater above federal health standards with toxic pollutants.
Coal ash remains one of our nation’s largest toxic industrial waste streams. U.S. coal plants continue to produce approximately 70 million tons every year.
Despite EPA’s 2015 Coal Ash Rule, which created the first-ever safeguards for coal ash disposal, many coal ash dumps remain unregulated due to sweeping exemptions for legacy coal ash ponds and inactive landfills.
The exempted coal ash dumps are sited disproportionately in low-income communities and communities of color. The EPA issued a proposed rule to address most of these exemptions on May 17, 2023.
The magnitude of harm from recklessly dumped toxic coal ash requires decisive action from federal and state regulators.
- Utilities must be required to comply with the law and immediately clean up their pollution.
- EPA and states must make enforcement a priority and act quickly to ensure that utilities leave communities with sites that benefit rather than harm their health, environment, and economic status.
- EPA must swiftly strengthen the Coal Ash Rule to address the many legacy ponds and inactive landfills that are unregulated, and to prohibit coal ash used as fill unless protective measures are put in place, to ensure all Illinois communities are protected from coal ash pollution.
45 Coal Ash Disposal Sites in Illinois that Industry Acknowledges are Federally Regulated*
Illinois utilities operate 45 coal ash ponds and landfills, containing more than 109 million cubic yards of toxic waste at 19 coal plants, that industry admits are federally regulated.
Coal ash has caused significant groundwater contamination at nearly all of Illinois’ regulated dumpsites. To date, however, only one Illinois plant has selected a cleanup plan.
* There are two plants in Illinois, Prairie Power’s Pearl Station and Union Electric Co.’s Venice, that operate inactive coal ash ponds at the facility according to historical reporting data to EPA, but the owners have not complied with the CCR rule’s requirements that apply to these ponds, including groundwater monitoring, closure, and corrective action.
|Baldwin||Baldwin||Luminant||4 unlined ponds||Boron (x3), Lithium (x3), Molybdenum (x1), Sulfate (x2)|
|Coffeen||Coffeen||Luminant||3 unlined ponds, 1 lined pond, 1 landfill||Arsenic (x3), Boron (x6), Cadmium (x1), Cobalt (x50), Lead (x2), Lithium (x3), Sulfate (x6)|
|Dallman||Springfield||City, Water, Light & Power||2 unlined ponds, 1 landfill||Arsenic (x14), Boron (x10), Sulfate (x1)|
|Duck Creek||Springfield||Luminant||3 unlined ponds, 1 lined pond, 1 landfill||Arsenic (x2), Cobalt (x6), Lead (x6), Lithium (x2)|
|Edwards||Bartonville||Luminant||1 unlined pond||Arsenic (x2), Cobalt (x6), Lead (x2), Lithium (x4)|
|Grand Tower Energy Ctr||Grand Tower||Main Line Gen||1 unlined pond||Not evaluated|
|Havana||Havana||Luminant||1 unlined pond||No exceedances reported|
|Hennepin||Hennepin||Luminant||4 unlined ponds, 1 landfill||Arsenic (x3), Boron (x4), Cobalt (x1), Lithium (x2), Molybdenum (x8), Selenium (x1)|
|Joliet #29||Joliet||NRG||1 unlined pond||Cobalt (x1)|
|Joliet #9||Joliet||NRG||1 unlined pond||Arsenic (x12), Boron (x6), Lithium (x4), Molybdenum (x27), Sulfate (x1)|
|Joppa||Joppa||Luminant||1 unlined pond, 1 landfill||Cobalt (x3), Lead (x1)|
|Kincaid||Kincaid||Luminant||1 unlined pond||Boron (x2)|
|Marion||Marion||SIPC||1 unlined pond||Arsenic (x5), Boron (x7), Cobalt (x63), Selenium (x2), Sulfate (x2), Thallium (x46)|
|Newton||Newton||Luminant||1 unlined pond, 1 landfill||Arsenic (x7), Cobalt (x1)|
|Powerton||Pekin||NRG||3 unlined ponds||Arsenic (x21), Molybdenum (x2), Sulfate (x1), Thallium x2|
|Prairie State||Marissa||We Energies||1 landfill||No exceedances reported|
|Waukegan||Waukegan||NRG||2 unlined ponds||Sulfate (x1)|
|Will County||Romeoville||NRG||2 unlined ponds||Arsenic (x2), Molybdenum (x2)|
|Wood River||Alton||Luminant||4 unlined ponds||Arsenic (x4), Boron (x33), Molybdenum (x15), Sulfate (x2)|
All data on groundwater contamination from coal ash derived from the utilities’ publicly accessible CCR Compliance Data and Information websites, and exceedances were calculated by Environmental Integrity Project.
For more information on regulated coal ash sites in Illinois, see Mapping the Coal Ash Contamination.
31 Coal Ash Legacy Ponds and Inactive Landfills in Illinois for which Federal Regulations Have Not Yet Been Adopted (ash dumps exempted from the 2015 Coal Ash Rule)
In addition, Illinois hosts at least 31 inactive coal ash landfills and legacy ponds that escape federal regulation. The exact number remains unknown because utilities are not required to report these sites.
These dumps are almost certainly contaminating water and threatening health and the environment; however, monitoring data are not currently available for most unregulated sites.
As we anticipate EPA’s proposed rule on legacy ponds and unregulated landfills in May 2023, a concern remains that the agency will not address coal ash that was dumped off site or used as fill.
|Baldwin||Baldwin||Luminant||0||1||Yes – industry data|
|Hennepin||Hennepin||Luminant||0||1||Yes – EPA damage case|
|Coffeen||Coffeen||Luminant||0||1||Yes – EPA damage case|
|Crawford||Chicago||First Energy||1||0||Yes – industry data|
|Dallman||Springfield||City, Water, Light & Power||0||1||Yes – EPA damage case|
|Fisk||Chicago||Midwest Gen||3||0||Unknown – no data|
|Hutsonville||Hutsonville||Ameren Energy Gen||5||0||Yes – EPA damage case|
|Joliet #29||Joliet||NRG||0||1||Yes – EPA damage case|
|Joppa||Joppa||Luminant||0||1||Yes – EPA damage case|
|Kincaid||Kincaid||Luminant||0||1||Yes – industry data|
|Marion||Marion||So. IL Power Coop||0||2||Yes – EPA damage case|
|Meredosia||Meredosia||Ameren Energy Generating Co||5||0||Yes – EPA damage case|
|Newton||Newton||Luminant (formerly Dynegy)||0||1||Yes – industry data|
|Vermilion||Oakwood||Dynegy Midwest Gen||5||1||Yes – EPA damage case|
|Waukegan||Waukegan||NRG||0||1||Yes – EPA damage case|
Plants Baldwin’s and Kincaid’s evidence of site contamination: Industry monitoring data posted on the plant’s CCR Compliance Data and Information website.
Plants Crawford’s and Newton’s evidence of site contamination: Industry monitoring data posted on the plant’s CCR Compliance Data and Information website.
Plant Crawford’s owner claims to have removed all coal ash in the pond by excavation before 2015.
These data were developed by using EPA datasets relied upon in their 2007 and 2014 CCR risk assessments (Human and Ecological Risk Assessment of Coal Combustion Residuals) and comparing those datasets to the universe of regulated units.
“EPA damage case” denotes a site where US EPA has found documented groundwater contamination from coal ash.
For More Information
Christine Santillana, Legislative Counsel, Earthjustice, email@example.com
Lisa Evans, Senior Counsel, Earthjustice, firstname.lastname@example.org.
More on Coal Ash in Illinois
- Poisonous Coverup: The Widespread Failure of the Power Industry to Clean Up Coal Ash Dumps (November 3, 2022)
- Court Victories Signal Hope for Communities Threatened by Coal Ash (August 10, 2021)
- Illinois Coal Ash Rule Will Clean Up Coal’s Dirty Legacy (April 16, 2021)
- What Schoolhouse Rock Didn’t Tell You About Lawmaking (April 16, 2021)
- Milestone Bill to Clean Up Coal Ash Pollution in Illinois Becomes Law (July 30, 2019)
- Cap and Run: Toxic Coal Ash Left Behind by Big Polluters Threatens Illinois Water (November 27, 2018)
- Federal Lawsuit Filed to Force Dynegy to Clean Up Toxic Pollution of Vermilion River (May 30, 2018)
- Tr-Ash Talk: Rebellion Against Coal Ash in Illinois (August 31, 2011)
Coal Ash in States, Territories, Regions
Earthjustice fights in the courts for a long-term solution to the toxic menace of coal ash. And we act on behalf of dozens of clients and over 100 coalition partners to defeat legislative attempts to subvert federally enforceable safeguards of coal ash.
Earthjustice’s Clean Energy Program uses the power of the law and the strength of partnership to accelerate the transition to 100% clean energy.