AKIN, IL - This week, Sierra Club Illinois and the Prairie Rivers Network, represented by Great Rivers Environmental Law Center and Albert Ettinger, announced that they filed a Notice of Intent to sue Sugar Camp Energy LLC and American Consolidated Natural Resources due to the Sugar Camp coal mine’s violations of the Clean Water Act, the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act, and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. This announcement comes on the heels of the report that operators at the Sugar Camp Mine dumped 46,000 gallons of fire fighting foam, including at least 660 gallons of concentrated PFAS-based foam deep into the underground mine in an unsuccessful attempt to extinguish a fire that has been burning underground for the past two months.
“The use of firefighting foam containing toxic PFAS chemicals at Sugar Camp Mine poses a threat to the public health of the nearby community and the surrounding environment, and Sugar Camp Energy must be held accountable,” says Sierra Club Illinois Director Jack Darin. “Sugar Camp Energy’s violations of the Clean Water Act, the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA), and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act are just the latest reminder that Illinois must move beyond coal and transition to a safer, renewable energy future. That future starts with holding coal companies accountable for their actions and protecting communities from further harm.”
Despite claims from the Sugar Camp coal mine that the foam used by the company in an attempt to extinguish the fire was “biodegradable” and would not “harm fish or wildlife and will not destroy or retard new forest growth,” much of the firefighting foam used at the mine is, in fact, highly toxic, and some contain PFAS. PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are highly persistent “forever chemicals” that, when ingested, can lead to serious health problems including cancer and organ and immune system damage. Studies have linked prolonged PFAS exposure to cancer, thyroid disorders, decreased fertility, and elevated cholesterol.
“The substances being discharged by the Mine into nearby surface waters present a great environmental and health concern because of their potential to persist forever in the environment,” says Sarah Rubenstein, staff attorney with Great Rivers Environmental Law Center. Great Rivers has significant experience bringing Clean Water Act citizen suits, and is providing legal representation to Sierra Club and Prairie Rivers in this matter to address the dangerous situation at the Mine and the surrounding environment.
Sierra Club Illinois and the Prairie Rivers Network’s notice states that samples collected by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency from nearby surface water locations found concentrations of PFAS higher than EPA health advisory levels, Illinois drinking water health advisory levels, and Illinois draft groundwater standards. Sugar Camp’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit does not authorize any discharges into the nearby watersheds, nor does it allow for the discharge of PFAS or other toxic substances found to be present in the nearby watersheds.
“The irresponsible discharge of highly toxic chemicals into the ground and surrounding waterways is a great concern to myself and anyone with private water supplies in the area. Extensive, long-term testing must be made available to landowners,” says Tabitha Tripp, an Illinois landowner and environmental advocate. “Foresight must be held accountable for poisoning water supplies - this is not a burden that should fall on the landowners of Illinois. Sadly, once a water source is contaminated with a forever chemical like PFAS, the expense to purify water is simply not affordable. Mining coal is not worth the damage it’s doing to us and the land and to our health. “
“Sugar Camp Mine discharges to tributaries of Akin Creek and Middle Fork Big Muddy River and to the Akin Creek and Middle Fork Big Muddy River bodies of water directly,” says Andrew Rehn, Water Resources Engineer with Prairie Rivers Network. “As Illinois phases out the type of firefighting foam used under the recently passed PFAS Reduction Act, it is critical that we hold polluters accountable when violations occur in order to protect local watersheds and the health of nearby communities.”
The Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with more than 3.8 million members and supporters. In addition to protecting every person's right to get outdoors and access the healing power of nature, the Sierra Club works to promote clean energy, safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places through grassroots activism, public education, lobbying, and legal action. For more information, visit www.sierraclub.org.
Prairie Rivers Network
At Prairie Rivers Network (PRN), we protect water, heal land, and inspire change. Using the creative power of science, law, and collective action, we protect and restore our rivers, return healthy soils and diverse wildlife to our lands, and transform how we care for the earth and for each other. PRN is the Illinois affiliate of the National Wildlife Federation. To learn more please visit www.prairierivers.org.
Great Rivers Environmental Law Center
Great Rivers is a public interest law firm that provides free legal services to individuals, organizations, and citizen groups who are working to protect the environment and public health in Missouri and Southern Illinois. To learn more please visit www.greatriverslaw.org.
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