Ameren's Labadie Plant

The Sierra Club and the Labadie Environmental Organization (LEO) sent a letter Thursday to Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon urging him to halt new ash dumps for Ameren’s coal plants until the state conducts an investigation of groundwater impacts.

Thursday’s letter came a few weeks after Ameren released the results of a study by a toxicologist it retained that showed they are no public health risks to either surface or groundwater from ash management practices at the Labadie Energy Center.

The two environmental organizations are refuting those conclusion saying that the tests actually confirm unsafe levels of arsenic in the groundwater near the plant. They maintain that the data collected by Ameren reveals that the arsenic in groundwater near the Labadie power plant was found to be six times the federal Safe Drinking Water Act standard.

“This water is not drinkable, this groundwater,” said Bob Criss, professor of Earth and planetary sciences at Washington University in a conference call Thursday. “These are dangerous levels.”

Ameren spokesman Trina Muniz said Ameren stands by its statement that the water is safe.

“We do stand by the report and we do believe there is no harm to the water tables in or around the Labadie landfill,” she said.

Muniz also said the claim about excessive arsenic in the ground may be coming from another source and not Ameren.

“That there’s high levels of arsenic is probably a stretch,” Muniz said. “There’s arsenic in the ground naturally. ... All testing will always show arsenic as a natural product of ground soil.”

The letter asks Gov. Nixon to direct the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to halt the permitting of new coal ash landfills at Ameren sites until more is known about the state of the groundwater.

The environmental groups would like the state to 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 coal ash, the by-product of burning coal, is stored in ponds in Labadie, Meramec and Rush Island. Ameren is currently trying to build coal ash landfills at three metro St. Louis power plants.

Criss said the recent release of data from Ameren is troubling.

“Ameren has been extremely reluctant to do groundwater testing in the vicinity of the plant, even though contamination in the region has been suspected for a very long time,” Criss said. “The first results that Ameren has recently released involve testing from April 2013 and the tests expose very high levels of contamination.”

Muniz said Ameren has done what it’s supposed to do in regards to groundwater testing.

“We have abided by all regulatory policies and requirements,” she said. “We meet every EPA regulation over and above what it asked of us. We do expect when new EPA laws come out there will be more groundwater tests asked of us, and we will do that.”

Criss, and the others, would like Gov. Nixon to instruct the state to do more groundwater testing, similar to the way it’s done in Illinois.

John Hickey, chapter director of the Missouri Sierra Club, said Illinois requires Ameren to routinely check and monitor groundwater levels. That way, when a change is noticed, action can be taken.

“Across the state line in Illinois, we can look at what happens when you do monitoring,” Hickey said. “... Ameren does groundwater monitoring on the Illinois side of the river, on this side it does not.”

Hickey said Ameren has identified contaminated water in Illinois and helps make sure it doesn’t spread. He said it’s time for Missouri to make sure the water is safe.

“It’s time we have Ameren and other polluters stop playing political games with our water,” Hickey said. “We need to make sure the right steps are taken before Ameren is allowed to build coal ash landfills in our floodplains. We’re asking Gov. Nixon to make sure the steps are taken so polluters like Ameren do not put our health at risk and we use groundwater monitoring so we know, for a fact, what’s going on.”

The groups want the state to step in because they say Ameren won’t test groundwater without a push from the government.

“Given Ameren’s track record, the company can’t be trusted with monitoring the safety of our water,” said Patricia Schuba, Labadie Environmental Organization president.

Muniz said Ameren has been compliant with all current instructions from the state.

“We abide by all Missouri laws and regulations,” Muniz said.