By Patricia Schuba
The Labadie Environmental Organization (LEO) agrees with Ameren that the debate over Ameren’s proposal to build a coal ash landfill in the Missouri River floodplain and floodway next to the Labadie plant should be governed by the facts.
Unfortunately, Ameren’s latest report, featured in a Missourian article last weekend, is yet another cynical attempt by Ameren to avoid the key facts.
Key Fact No. 1: Ameren has done no testing of the groundwater at the Labadie plant site, where it has been dumping coal ash for more than 40 years. While Ameren collected some surface water data – off-site – for purposes of this report, it made no effort to test the groundwater at the plant site.
Key Fact No. 2: Ameren knows that there is a high likelihood of groundwater contamination at the Labadie plant site. As an Ameren official said in a 2013 Illinois report, “meeting groundwater quality standards in the areas immediately surrounding ash ponds built 40, 50, even 60 years ago can be very challenging.”
According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, “[t]he disposal of …. CCRs [coal ash] in unlined waste management units, but particularly in unlined surface impoundments … can pose significant risks to human health and the environment from releases of CCR [coal ash] toxic constituents to ground water and surface water.”
Key Fact No. 3: The unlined, 154-acre ash pond at the Labadie plant has had multiple leaks, sending some 50,000 gallons of coal ash wastewater into the environment for over 20 years. The leaks found so far at Ameren’s unlined ash pond were visible to the naked eye.
The above-ground portions of the Labadie plant’s two large ash ponds are just the tip of the iceberg. The only way to know whether the huge below-ground portions areas are leaking is to test the groundwater.
Key Fact No. 4: When Ameren has tested groundwater around ash ponds at its other coal plants, it has repeatedly found groundwater contamination.
• Ameren found contamination at the one ash pond it tested at the Meramec plant in 1988, but showed no curiosity as to where that contamination was going or whether the several other unlined ponds at that plant were also leaking.
• Unlike in Missouri, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency has pressed Ameren to conduct groundwater monitoring at its Illinois plants. Ameren’s Illinois testing has documented concentrations of toxic pollutants in violation of federal and state groundwater and drinking water standards. At the Venice plant, which stopped generating coal ash in 1977, concentrations of arsenic exceeding the federal drinking water standard extend several hundred feet downgradient from the ash ponds. The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency has cited Ameren for violating state groundwater standards due to ash pond leakage at the Coffeen, Grand Tower, Meredosia, and Newton coal plants.
Key Fact No. 5: As required by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources as part of its landfill application, Ameren has begun groundwater testing at the proposed landfill site next to the plant site.
In each of the three sampling events since April 2013, Ameren’s testing found concentrations of arsenic, manganese, iron, and suspended solids above federal drinking water standards – including arsenic more than six times higher than the drinking water standard. In two of the three sampling events, Ameren also found selenium and aluminum in concentrations exceeding federal drinking water standards.
While Ameren’s report includes these test results, it theorizes that the contamination is part of “background” levels and is not coming from the ash ponds. Prepared by an official of the American Coal Ash Association, Ameren’s report is neither independent nor informative. It uses a “conceptual site model” — a theoretical approach — to speculate about site conditions.
As Sen. Nieves wrote to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources in November 2013:
“I ask that the Missouri Department of Natural Resources halt permitting of a coal ash landfill at the site, begin groundwater monitoring around the waste ponds in earnest and test the waste water being discharged to the Missouri River. I ask that the monitoring be comprehensive and include all coal ash toxins and pH information to validate levels reported and that it be posted for public review on the MODNR website in a timely manner.”
It is high time for Ameren to ditch the smoke and mirrors. It is high time for Ameren to start testing the groundwater at its leaking Labadie ash ponds.
Patricia Schuba, President
Labadie Environmental Organization