ST. LOUIS – Today, the Sierra Club and the Labadie Environmental Organization (LEO) urged immediate action by Governor Jay Nixon of Missouri to halt all permitting of new ash dumps for Ameren’s coal plants until the state conducts a thorough investigation of groundwater impacts.
In a letter to the Governor, the groups alerted the Governor’s office to the shocking results of recent water tests near Ameren’s Labadie coal plant in Franklin County, which found that groundwater near the plant contained unsafe levels of arsenic at more than six times the federal drinking water standards. Arsenic is a well-known constituent of coal ash waste like the type Ameren keeps in a giant unlined pond nearby. Arsenic is toxic, and exposure is linked to bladder, lung, kidney and gastrointestinal cancers.
“Contamination from coal ash currently poses a real threat to the quality and safety of our water in Missouri,” said Dr. Bob Criss, Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis. “As we speak, arsenic is being detected downstream of the coal ash spill at Duke’s coal-fired plant on the Dan River in North Carolina. We could face the same fate here in Missouri if we don’t require safe siting and construction and require proactive monitoring around coal ash sites.”
The letter to the Governor urged his office to take action by immediately halting approval or construction of any coal ash landfill until the state of Missouri has conducted a complete investigation of groundwater impacts at Labadie, and at all of Ameren’s coal ash dumps at its Rush Island and Meramec coal plants.
The data cited in the letter to the Governor was collected by Ameren at monitoring wells on the proposed landfill site across the road from the existing leaking pond and submitted to the Missouri Public Service Commission (PSC) as part of a request for approval of a new large ash landfill. Ameren’s groundwater testing also revealed levels of arsenic, aluminum, lead, magnesium, iron, and total suspended solids that violate safe levels as dictated by the Safe Drinking Water Act.
“You can’t undo arsenic contamination in a drinking well,” said Patricia Schuba, local resident and President of Labadie Environmental Organization. “We’re asking Governor Nixon to order the Missouri Department of Natural Resources to halt permitting of Ameren’s dangerous coal ash proposal and begin groundwater testing around the company’s already-leaking pond to ensure our community that the water can be kept safe. Given Ameren’s track record, the company can’t be trusted with monitoring the safety of our water.”
For decades, Ameren has been dumping coal ash – the leftover waste from burning coal at the utility’s power plants - into unlined ponds at its Labadie, Meramec and Rush Island coal plants. Currently, Ameren is in various stages of seeking approval from the state Public Service Commission and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to build coal ash landfills at three metro St. Louis power plants. These proposals have raised community concerns as more information becomes available about Ameren’s history of water contamination in Illinois, and evidence of contamination in Missouri continue to mount.
The coal-reliant utility is growing increasingly desperate to build new coal ash dumps, seeking to write its own ticket at the local level. In an email exchange uncovered through a sunshine request, Ameren officials drafted a letter sent by Franklin County zoning officials to DNR stating that the landfill complies with local zoning requirements, directing the County to put their letterhead on that statement. Labadie residents and the Labadie Environmental Organization have appealed that decision because Ameren’s proposed landfill will be in intermittent contact with groundwater, though County zoning requires a two-foot distance between the bottom of the landfill and the groundwater.
“Ameren cannot play games with our health and our water,” said John Hickey, Chapter Director of the Sierra Club in Missouri. “We need to know that the right steps are being taken before Ameren is given the green light to dump dirty coal ash in our floodplains. We’re asking Governor Nixon to make sure these steps are taken and that polluters like Ameren do not put our health, our community and the river at risk.”
Missouri’s lax approach to coal ash disposal presents risks for communities across Missouri. Ameren dumped toxic coal ash in untested, porous limestone mines in Ste. Genevieve. KCP&L in Kansas City sends coal ash to an abandoned mine for underground pumping. Elsewhere in the state, City Utilities in Springfield used Missouri legislation to avoid an environmental review process of potential coal ash waste disposal sites.
“We’ve got coal ash contamination issues across the entire state of Missouri, and that should raise a red flag for Governor Nixon,” said Ginny Schrappen, Mehlville resident who lives near Ameren’s Meramec coal plant. “The heart of the issue is that our state is overly dependent on coal-fired power, and we must start developing our abundant clean energy resources like wind and solar now.”