Environmentalists and community members in Vermilion County have expressed deep concern over the pollution from toxic chemicals seeping from large coal ash ponds into the Middle Fork River in Vermilion County. But engineering experts warn there may be a greater risk posed by the collapse of the riverbank holding back more than 600 million of gallons of toxic coal ash. A 2017 engineering study paid for by Dynegy Corp., the previous owner of the site, shows that the river is rapidly undermining the riverbanks near the ash ponds. The company has made a least two attempts to harden the riverbank against further erosion, but the banks remain unstable. The study was obtained through an Freedom of Information Act request by the Eco-Justice Collaborative, a non-profit environmental group in Champaign, that has shared it with news outlets. Since the report, the riverbank has continued to erode, according to environmentalists, community leaders and Dynegy itself.
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.