This may be the last winter coal ash from the Labadie power plant will be used on county roads during icy weather.
Presiding Commissioner Tim Brinker told The Missourian Thursday, Ameren will no longer be allowed to provide the cinders due to regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The letter sent to Franklin County from Ameren states the U.S. EPA proposed changes Aug. 14, 2019, on the definition of beneficial uses for coal combustion residuals (CCRs) and due to the uncertainty of how beneficial use will be defined in the final rule, Ameren is suspending the use of ash for traction control.
Brinker said last year, the county used just under 9,000 tons of the coal ash cinders Ameren supplied Franklin County free of charge.
Franklin County has used the coal ash cinders for decades, but the first formal agreement with Ameren was signed in 2014.
The initial agreement was signed around the same time as a controversial coal ash landfill was being planned and constructed at the power plant site in Labadie.
County Highway Administrator Ron Williams said the county highway department has a large supply of cinders already stocked at all four of its facilities throughout the county.
“We do have cinders on hand,” Williams said. “Unless we have a very harsh winter, we will have enough for this season, but we need to put an eye toward next year.”
Williams added the county and other municipalities in Franklin County which use the cinders are not prohibited from using what they have in stock, they simply won’t be able to get more from Ameren at least this winter.
If they run out, or can’t use the cinders next year either, Williams said the county will look to use sand for traction on icy roads.
“If push comes to shove and we have to use sand, it will cost us,” Williams said. “I’ve been dealing with this for about seven months. We are still looking at the final determination by the EPA, which could be soon or years from now. Until then, we can’t get the cinders from Ameren.”
The Labadie Environmental Organization (LEO) fought the proposed coal ash landfill for several years.
The group has expressed concerns about groundwater contamination and has said the landfill should not be built in a flood plain.
They also expressed concerns over the bottom ash being “broadcast” all over the county.
Earlier this year, a member of the LEO group, Lloyd Klinedinst, told The Missourian they have concerns about the cinders being spread.
“We consider it to be just like secondhand smoke,” Klinedinst said. “If that ash is coming from the same ponds and waste management sites where Ameren showed arsenic almost four times the safe drinking water levels established by law, then we are just getting what I would call secondhand contamination from our road surfaces.”
At the time, residents were troubled by the coal ash and cinders being tracked into their homes, however, far more significant is coal ash, with all its carcinogenic and radioactive elements, being broadcast where it can enter the drinking water, poison the environment, and affect crops and livestock.
The Labadie Energy Center produces about 550,000 tons of coal ash per year, and about 60 percent of it is used for beneficial purposes, such as concrete and cement production.
In 2014, when the county began using the bottom ash cinders, the agreement labeled them as nonhazardous.
The county is required to pick up, load and haul all the cinders.
An account of all the cinders taken must be kept by the county and reported to Ameren each month.
Williams says he has not received any complaints about the coal ash cinders since he took the job in the fall of 2014.
He added the county intends to use more salt for deicing operations than cinders.
“It usually depends on what type of winter weather event we are experiencing,” Williams explained. “The cinders are usually used more for traction.”
Williams added there has been no resistance to the highway department using the bottom ash and the materials are basically inert.
“They have to test all of that stuff,” he said. “Any toxins are caught by the scrubbers in the smokestacks. We’ve used it for years.”
According to the federal EPA, bottom ash is a coarse, angular ash particle that is too large to be carried up into the smoke stacks so it forms in the bottom of the coal furnace.
Some power plants may dispose of it in surface impoundments or in landfills as is done in Labadie. Others may discharge it into a nearby waterway under the plant’s water discharge permit.
Coal ash contains contaminants like mercury, cadmium and arsenic.
Without proper management, these contaminants can pollute waterways, groundwater, drinking water, and the air.
The need for federal action to help ensure protective coal ash disposal was highlighted by large spills near Kingston, Tenn., and Eden, N.C., which caused widespread environmental and economic damage to nearby waterways and properties.
In addition to the cinders, it also may be recycled into products like concrete or wallboard.
Coal ash is one of the largest types of industrial waste generated in the United States. According to the American Coal Ash Association’s Coal Combustion Product Production & Use Survey Report, nearly 130 million tons of coal ash were generated in 2014.