By Laura Miller Hill
Nestled between the ecologically diverse and federally protected Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and the Northern Indiana Public Service Company’s coal-fired electric generating plant in Michigan City, the residents of Town of Pines are exposed to both the beauty of the dunes landscape and the waste produced from burning coal. Over the years, the burning of coal at the Michigan City plant has produced 1.5 million tons of coal-combustion by-products, or fly ash and bottom ash (Wallace, 2013). According to the organization Physicians for Social Responsibility, “coal ash–the waste material left after coal is burned–contains arsenic, mercury, lead, and over a dozen other heavy metals, many of them toxic” (Coal Ash: Toxic – And Leaking 2013).
This two-and-a-quarter square mile area is home to a total of three disposal sites, or landfills (Lawrence, Pines, and Yard 520), which contain coal-combustion by-products released by the Michigan City plant. In addition, fly ash, a by-product of coal burned at the plant, was used to pave local roads and fill in low-lying areas in the community. As a result of this storage and use of toxic waste as paving material and fill, toxic metals have leaked into the local aquifer, which feeds the residents’ wells and the adjacent federally protected natural area known as the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.
Since 2002, Town of Pines has been listed as a Groundwater Plume Region 5 Superfund Alternative Site by the Environmental Protection Agency (see Figure 1 for a representation of a groundwater plume). For thirteen years, the residents of this small community have had their concerns dismissed by both the companies responsible for the contamination of the local drinking water and the government agencies employed to protect the health and safety of the community. Taking a proactive stance, the residents educated themselves, contacted advocacy groups, and fought for the right to have clean and safe drinking water in their homes. Although improvements have been made, their fight continues to this day. Currently, there are no plans for total remediation of the site, and no offers of compensation have been made to the residents for the depreciation of their property values and health issues related to the groundwater contamination.