The Lansing Board of Water & Light (BWL) reported that recent testing of six private wells, located within 3/4 mile of the Erickson Power Station in Delta Township, detected elevated levels of boron.
BWL proactively tested the private wells as part of its ongoing groundwater investigation associated with the coal ash impoundment – or pond, at Erickson. Four of the impacted wells are associated with private residences and two are owned by commercial enterprises. None are BWL water customers.
“BWL takes responsibility for this situation, and we’ll move mountains to make it right for those who are affected,” said General Manager Dick Peffley. “When I think about how I would feel if my home was impacted, I’d want to know that immediate steps are being taken and a permanent fix is in the works. That’s exactly what we are going to do.”
Within hours of receiving the test results, BWL contacted the six impacted customers. Peffley and BWL’s Water Quality Administrator also visited each of the households and businesses to share information and listen to concerns. Out of an abundance of caution, BWL also immediately began providing free bottled water service to all six households and businesses until consensus is determined by regulatory and health agencies on the safe drinking levels of boron or until a permanent solution is developed and implemented.
BWL will explore permanent options with each business and homeowner and collaboratively implement what’s best for each at no cost to them. BWL is also planning to identify and test additional private wells within 1.5 miles downstream of the Erickson impoundment. Letters will be mailed next week to identified well owners for testing.
Peffley reassured the utility’s 58,000 Lansing area customers that the BWL water supply, which includes Delta Township and West Side Water, is not affected by the private wells. BWL water continues to meet or exceed all state and federal drinking water quality standards. The BWL water supply is pumped from the Saginaw Aquifer by 125 deep water wells to two water treatment and distribution plants.
There are no standards for boron required in the state and federal Safe Drinking Water Act and public drinking water systems are not required to monitor for it. However, the Erickson groundwater monitoring system is subject to a site-specific groundwater protection standard (GPS) of 0.5 mg/L for boron approved by the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE). BWL testing of the impacted private wells detected boron concentrations between 2.58 and 4.17 mg/L.
Boron is a naturally occurring element found in rocks, water, and soil, as well as in many foods and consumer products. According to the EPA, commonly found in surface and groundwater, low levels of boron in drinking water are not considered harmful to human health, but higher levels – consumed over a long period of time – may have some health impacts. BWL is working with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and EGLE to assist with evaluating and understanding the test results.
Boron is also present in the residual ash that remains when coal is burned to generate electricity. Coal ash produced throughout the 45+ year operational life of the Erickson plant was stored on site in an impoundment.
Between 2009 and 2014, BWL spent $10 million removing approximately 385,500 tons of ash from Erickson and disposed off-site in a permitted landfill. Waste removal is the gold standard for remediating a disposal site – as opposed to the less costly, more common approach of leaving the material in place and installing an impermeable cap. BWL removed the ash without regulatory mandate.
Coal ash currently being produced at Erickson from daily electric operations is taken offsite to a regulated landfill. There is a small amount of ash that gets into lined impoundments that will be emptied and permanently closed by 2023. BWL has previously scheduled to close Erickson in 2022.