The ruling requires the EPA to establish a timeline to put in place regulations for coal ash – the solid byproduct of burning coal.
Until now, coal ash was regulated as “Solid Waste” like garbage, not as “hazardous waste” even though it contains toxic heavy metals like arsenic and mercury.
Traci Barkley with the Prairie Rivers Network says the current rules were made decades ago when less was known about coal ash, and currently coal ash storage areas have fewer safety requirements than landfills.
“So for example there’s groundwater monitoring that’s required in landfills, there’s collection that’s required, there’s citing characterization that’s required prior to building a landfill, the newer ones must be lined. So those are all protections that are not in place right now for this large waste stream of coal ash,” Barkley says. She adds that as of now it’s OK to locate coal ash ponds in floodplains. According to the non-profit – Earth Justice – there are 21 contaminated and spill sites across Illinois. That includes sites near Meredosia, Canton, Havana, and Pekin.