In Indiana, a utility finally agrees to clean up a town poisoned by coal-fired power plant, and restore toxic groundwater plume

All across America (and the world), communities and ecosystems are being poisoned by arsenic, thallium and lead from fly ash dust, a waste product of coal-fired power plants.

In most cases, the offending utility companies have enough political and judicial pull in their state to avoid any significant fines. Cleanup efforts are often token, at best, especially when it’s a low-income and/or minority neighborhood that’s being affected.

Occasionally though, a federal agency steps in to help make things right.

On March 4, 2022, it was announced that the Northern Indiana Public Service Company (NIPSCO) will clean up soil contamination at individual residences within the Town of Pines Groundwater Plume Superfund site in Porter County, Indiana, at an estimated cost of $11.8 million to resolve federal and state Superfund liability.

NIPSCO is required to restore excavated properties using clean backfill, implement restrictions at the excavated properties where necessary to prevent exposure to any remaining contamination that might be left at depth, and monitor residential drinking water wells, groundwater monitoring wells, surface water and sediments to ensure that the contamination has not migrated to those locations.

This settlement requires NIPSCO to remove soil contaminated with coal ash from the utility’s power generation facility, and to monitor groundwater in and around the Town of Pines, Indiana,” said Acting Assistant Administrator Larry Starfield for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance.

This cleanup work will help protect residents from exposure to arsenic and other hazardous substances,” he added.

The complaint, filed simultaneously with the consent decree, alleges that the company is liable for the cleanup of coal ash from its power generation facility that it distributed as landscaping fill in the Town of Pines and its vicinity. The soils contaminated by coal ash contain hazardous substances including arsenic, thallium and lead.

Today’s settlement requires NIPSCO to address the contamination it contributed to the Town of Pines Superfund site,” said Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the U.S. Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “This settlement is a critical step toward the remediation of the site and will minimize risks to owners of contaminated property and to the environment.

This settlement will help protect the environment and the health of people in northwest Indiana by cleaning up coal ash from residential properties,” said Administrator Debra Shore of EPA Region 5. “Removing contaminated soil and monitoring groundwater at the Town of Pines site is a vital part of this settlement with NIPSCO.

The consent decree also requires NIPSCO to identify residential soil contamination above clean up levels from its disposal of coal ash, excavate the contaminated soils, and transport excavated contaminated soil to a licensed waste disposal facility.

By entering into this settlement with EPA and the state, NIPSCO will complete the process of cleaning up and restoring residential yards impacted by the disposal of coal ash in the Town of Pines and ensure the safety of the drinking water supply by monitoring both drinking water and groundwater wells for potential contamination caused by the disposal,” said Commissioner Brian Rockensuess of the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.

The company will also reimburse EPA a large percentage of its past costs and pay all future costs incurred by EPA and the State of Indiana in overseeing the cleanup.

Hoosiers stand to benefit from NIPSCO’s commitment to reimburse taxpayers for public money spent during this lengthy process,” said Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita. “They stand to benefit, as well, from the company’s pledge to finish the cleanup in the Town of Pines made necessary by disposal of its coal ash in residential areas. We must always work to protect Hoosiers and uphold the rule of law.

All photos of Town of Pines Groundwater Plume Superfund site are courtesy of EPA.

Learn more about the settlement.

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