Toxic foam dumped into southern Illinois coal mine in unsuccessful attempt to extinguish underground fire

St. Louis-based Foresight operates two longwall mines at the Sugar Camp Energy complex, located in Franklin County, in southern Illinois. (Company photo)

By Michael Hawthorne Chicago Tribune (TNS)

Operators of a southern Illinois coal mine dumped toxic foam deep underground in an unsuccessful attempt to extinguish a fire that idled production last month, according to documents obtained by the Chicago Tribune.

The type of foam used by St. Louis-based Foresight Energy is being phased out in Illinois and 11 other states under laws that for the first time restrict unregulated chemicals known as PFAS — shorthand for perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances.

PFAS are a growing concern worldwide because they remain in the environment forever, linger in the blood of exposed people for years and trigger several health problems, including cancer, liver damage and decreased fertility.

One of Foresight’s lawyers told state officials the foam used at the Sugar Camp complex was biodegradable and would not harm fish or wildlife. But inspectors later determined the company had pumped more than 46,000 gallons of PFAS-laden foam into the mine, raising the possibility that nearby private wells and other sources of drinking water could be contaminated.

Company officials also hired contractors to drill boreholes into the mine without a permit, records show. One of the boreholes is close to a creek where testing this month by the Illinois Environmental Protection detected high levels of PFAS.

“Potential environmental impacts are tremendous, especially if the foam is not contained,” said Melanie Benesh, an attorney for the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit organization pushing to ban the chemicals. “PFAS can seep into groundwater where it won’t break down. If the contaminated groundwater is a source of drinking water, then residents may be exposed to PFAS.”


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October 1, 2021 at 06:43AM

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