INDIANAPOLIS, IN – A company has been ordered by a court this week to pay millions of dollars to clean up a town that it contaminated almost 50 years ago with coal ash, the toxic by-product from burning coal to make electricity.
The Northern Indiana Public Service Company (NIPSCO) was found to have used coal ash as fill in yards, buildings construction sites, and under roadways in the Town of Pines; thirty years later, the substance was discovered to have contaminated the area’s ground water, creating a serious health issue for the 600 residents of the northern Indiana town.
However, despite the very real danger posed to Pines’ population, it would take another twenty years for NIPSCO and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to reach an agreement on the cleanup process and its associated costs.
In the process, the EPA has designated Pines as a Superfund site, part of a program where the EPA identifies parties responsible for hazardous substance releases to the environment to compel them to clean up the site, or clean up the site themselves and recover the costs from the polluter via legal means.
The current plan is for NIPSCO to remove all of the soil contaminated by the coal ash throughout the town – after conducting tests of the soil of about 400 homes and businesses – an extensive project that the company has agreed to pay approximately $12 million to undertake.
Coal ash contains a hazardous mixture of heavy metals and chemicals such as arsenic, boron lead and mercury; the toxic substance is capable of leaching into groundwater when introduced into the environment, which is the case in Town of Pines, according to testing.
While the residents of Pines are happy that their contamination woes are finally being addressed, some people – such as Lisa Evans, a senior attorney for the environmental group Earthjustice – are questioning why it took so long for the EPA to reach an agreement with NIPSCO.
“Why is NIPSCO still cleaning up the toxic mess after 20 years?” she asked. “It is important to realize that this site is not an isolated waste dump. This Superfund site is a town where people live.”