Our water is safe, until it is not

Arsenic in the sugar bowl? That doesn’t sound right. Arsenic in the water? That doesn’t sound right. A recent headline saying that the water from wells near the AEP clean-up site is safe doesn’t sound right either.

CCRs (Coal combustion residuals or coal ash) contain arsenic and other heavy metal carcinogens. Current owner of the AEP property, Tanners Creek Development, attempted to add more CCR waste to that site last year as part of their “clean-up.” It appeared Tanners Creek Development was looking out for its interests and not ours.

Officials should have been up at arms to protect their citizens. Many claimed they weren’t notified and shifted the conversation to waiting for someone else (IDEM and IDNR) to control Tanners Creek Development. Fortunately IDEM is following up on the process thanks to recent court decisions on CCRs.

I watched the recording of the presentation and read the report from the scientist who spoke at Lawrenceburg’s Utility Board a week ago. LMU hired the scientist.  He used available data to create his model for Lawrenceburg and estimates of water usage by wells and recharge patterns for the aquifer. But his model is constrained by the level of information that he had. He did not study the CCR pits. He did stress more testing sites, more sharing of data, more communication in the regional well users, and more monitoring.

We do not want to find contamination at any of our test wells. It will be too late to save our supply when arsenic and other heavy metals show up.

Where do our elected officials stand on the AEP site cleanup issue? It is creepy how quiet our mayors, council members, commissioners, state representatives and senators are.

These officials are elected to protect and promote the health, safety, and welfare of their citizens. I have been following local issues for 24 years, and I’ve never seen such an important issue be met with so much political silence.

The water aquifer along the Ohio River that supplies water to industry and residents is one of the best in the country. It is one reason whiskey barons brought their production to the area.

The storage of coal combustion residuals from AEP poses a very real threat to that water supply. It is not our fault that we have this problem. But it is our fault if we ignore it, and destroy a priceless resource for generations to come.

The old AEP cleanup site is probably one of the most complicated to solve in the state. It’s hard to think of  worse place to store CCRs. CCR pits lie next to the Ohio River.

Tanners Creek runs between the pits to the river. The CCRs sit on top of a priceless aquifer in unlined and lined pits. The area floods periodically which makes capping the pits and storing in place a poor solution for the long term.

The potential opportunities for industry, the port, and the workers they bring depend on the very same thing that our lives depend on- a good, clean water supply. What is good for the citizens of Dearborn County is good for business. Not the other way around.

We need to get our priorities straight and work together. Each city doing studies is a small voice - but combine the cities and county and the voices get stronger. Managing that aquifer will require more test wells, more stacked levels on each test well, and more frequent data collection year round. Insuring that new industry does not pollute that area will require vigilance.

It’s not “if” the aquifer will be contaminated, but “when” will it be contaminated unless we remove the threat completely.

This has been done by NIPSCO in northern Indiana to a designated engineered site to safely contain it. As was pointed out at a recent CCR informational meeting at the library, the coal ash and CCRs can be taken out the same way the original coal that created it came in - on existing rail lines.

Getting rid of a main source of potential carcinogenic pollution will be a big step toward water safety. It is important, because our water is safe- until it is not.

Christine Brauer Mueller, Pribble Road, has been attending county meetings since 1995. She writes for the Dearborn County Public Forum at www.dearborncounty.blogspot.com.


The Dearborn County Register & Journal Press

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