A catastrophic failure of the riverbank could overwhelm the Middle Fork with more than 666 million gallons of toxic coal ash for many miles downstream. The spill would impact the environment, human health, and the economy of the region.
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.
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.
Damage from coal ash disposal sites has become a growing concern in recent years after several spectacular disasters. Here's what we know about the damage to human health and the environment from large coal ash spills, and the costs of cleanup, from two disasters in the past decade.
Coal ash isn't regulated in the U.S. as a hazardous waste. The Obama EPA set rules which the Trump EPA reversed. Now it's up to the courts, and the states, to resolve the confusion and prevent future coal ash disasters.
America has lost millions of acres of farmland over the nearly three decades to urban and rural development.
Despite conservation efforts by state and local governments and increased financial incentives for farmers, urban development and the expansion of rural residential real estate over the last 25 years has eliminated farmland across the country at levels not seen since the early 1970s.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture sets an industry definition for family farms. But that definition doesn’t take acreage size into consideration and can include operations where the family may not own the land, or even farm it. It defines what a family farm is for a consistent technical term in research and policy, which includes farm subsidies.
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.