Report: Joliet Groundwater Contaminated By Coal Ash

On Thursday, the Sierra Club, the Environmental Integrity Project, and Earthjustice released a report that charged the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency has not prevented a series of toxic pollutants from entering the groundwater in Joliet. The state EPA disputes the findings.

Tests on at least 18 private wells used for drinking water by the residents of the Smiley subdivision on Brandon Road in southwest Joliet showed elevated levels of arsenic, barium, copper and other potentially harmful contaminants, according to a report funded by the Environmental Integrity Project, Earthjustice and the Sierra Club. The wells are near a landfill that has been a dumping ground for toxic coal ash for decades.

The EPA disputes these findings, saying tests in 2006 on monitoring wells inside the landfill detected only low levels of boron and not these other pollutants. They said the private wells were shut down only because of the threat of boron, not because of an imminent health risk.

“I don’t think (residents) were exposed to any contaminants in the drinking water,” said Rick Cobb, a deputy division manager with the EPA. He characterized some of the report’s findings as “misstatements.”

The report attributes the groundwater contamination to leakage from the nearby Lincoln Stone Quarry Landfill, where coal ash from two coal-burning Midwest Generation power plants has been deposited since the early 1960s.

Concern over the effects of coal ash (which is generated by, among other activities, coal-burning power plants we rely upon for much of our electricity) is the subject of a September 16 public hearing in Chicago.  The ash problem as it relates to our use of energy, drinking water, and space to manage our wastes is indicative of several problems in industrial society, ones that Roosevelt’s curriculum addresses in Professor Mike Bryson’s SUST 220 Water online seminar this fall, Professor Carl Zimring’s online offering of SUST 240 Waste next spring, and most of the Sustainability curriculum.  For more information on these courses, please visit our Sustainability Studies website, call 1-877-277-5978 (1-877-APPLY RU) or email

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