Andrew Rehn of the Prairie Rivers Network presents the report 'Cap and Run: Toxic Coal Ash Left Behind by Big Polluters Threatens Illinois Water' at a news conference at the Illinois state capitol building in Springfield

Report shows toxic contamination at coal ash sites throughout Illinois

A new report published by several state environmental groups shows severe pollution of groundwater at nearly every known coal ash storage site in Illinois.

The report states that groundwater tests show unsafe levels of toxic chemicals and heavy metals at 22 of 24 Illinois coal-fired power plants. The tests were done by the companies that own the sites, collated by the environmental groups, and released this week.

A diagram of the Vermilion Power Station coal ash ponds and the Middle Fork River

The costs of closing a coal ash waste site
Who pays and for how long?

At Dynegy's coal ash ponds at the Vermilion Power Station, toxic pollution is already impacting groundwater and the Middle Fork River. The company is preparing several options for completely closing the site, including removing the coal ash, or simply capping the ponds and leaving the coal ash in place. Both options have costs; the question is who pays how much, and when.

A large pile of coal waste

The coal ash problem
What is coal ash, and why is it a problem?

In 2016 U.S. coal plants produced 107 million tons of coal ash. About 60 million tons were reused for industrial products like cement and construction materials, leaving 47 million tons left over as waste. That waste contains toxic chemicals and heavy metals dangerous to human health and the environment. There are more than a thousand coal ash sites across the U.S., and many of them are polluting groundwater, rivers and lakes.

Since 1955 the Vermilion Power Plant has been storing toxic coal ash in three ponds next to the Middle Fork Vermilion River near Oakwood, Illinois

Loose regulations allow coal ash to threaten river
Middle Fork River at risk from Dynegy coal ash ponds

Each year thousands of families boat down the Middle Fork branch of the Illinois Vermilion River below an embankment that holds back 3.3 million cubic yards of toxic coal ash sludge stored in three large ponds. Coal ash pollution is leaching into the river, and the riverbank is eroding under the ponds. We examine what's a stake in this investigative report.

People canoeing on a river

Protecting the Middle Fork from coal ash: How long is ‘perpetuity?’
Everyone agrees on the 'P' word

Dynegy is planning to close the coal ash ponds at its shuttered Vermilion Power Station near Oakwood, Illinois. The company may propose to remove the toxic coal ash from the banks of the Middle Fork River, or cap the ponds and leave them in place. The Illinois EPA says the river must be protected "in perpetuity." But after Dynegy walks away from the site, what does perpetuity mean?

Giving away the (wind) farm

Across the windswept Midwest, wind turbine companies — often based overseas for tax shelters — have lobbied for low or non-existent property taxes rates and steep depreciation schedules.

The big losers in the deal? Rural school districts that depend on those property taxes.

In a multi-state reporting collaboration, Flatland, the digital magazine of Kansas City PBS, and the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting, an independent, nonprofit newsroom in Illinois, uncover how states like Kansas have given away the wind farm.

Illinois touted as property tax model for wind farms

Illinois’ taxing model for wind energy companies is touted as one of the best in the country, bringing in $30.4 million in property taxes in 2016, according to economic experts.