Despite a disputed number of leaks, Ameren Missouri’s Labadie power plant coal ash retention ponds were rated “fair” in a recent report released by the Environmental Protection Agency.
According to a report submitted to the company by the EPA’s office of solid waste and emergency response, the agency inspected the structural stability of impoundments that contain wet coal combustion residuals, or coal ash.
The ponds at the Labadie plant, and countless others, hold coal ash that is sluiced from the plant to the ponds with water, taken from a nearby river or other water way.
The water then drains out of the ponds and, in the case of the Labadie plant, back into the Missouri River.
All the details of the EPA report have not yet been released, even though the inspection at the Labadie plant took place Nov. 17, 2010, because the company is claiming the report contains confidential business information.
Some information has been redacted pending a review of Ameren’s claim. If the report does have confidential information as deemed by the EPA, that information will remain redacted, according to the agency’s website.
If Ameren’s claim is denied, the additional information will be released.
In the information released so far, the EPA report recommended repairs to both of Ameren’s Labadie ponds, including removing “deleterious vegetation” and repairing “animal burrows” along slopes.
One of the ponds also was listed as having a small tree growing along the embankment and having erosion near the end of 6-inch PVC discharge pipes.
The ponds were classified as a bottom ash and a fly ash storage pond, with no additional studies ordered for either.
The EPA report did note that the bottom ash pond may need a monitoring system installed if the pond “is not taken out of service and replaced with the dry landfill.”
Sound, but Leaking
While structurally sound, one of the company’s two ponds has been leaking for almost 20 years.
During a September visit, Missouri Department of Natural Resources officials reported three visible leaks, The Missourian reported last month.
Two of those leaks were not related to the self-reported leaks dating back to 1992, a DNR spokesperson said.
Those previous leaks were estimated at a flow rate of 5 gallons and 30 gallons per minute.
Some time before DNR’s Sept. 20 visit, Ameren filled in one of those old leaks.
The other leak was found near the discharge pipe and “empties into the same location as the drainage pipe, which is in compliance,” Renee Bungart, DNR director of communications, told The Missourian in October.
“The other two leaks observed on this site visit were visible along the edge of the ash pond and are unrelated to those reported in 1992,” she said. “Of these two leaks, one was small enough that the discharge rate was unknown. The other leak was reported as discharging approximately 30 gallons per minute into land owned by Ameren.”
Bungart said the company agreed to address all three issues within 90 days and the state will visit the site within that period and after the first of the year to confirm repairs have been made.
Ameren officials denied a third leak at the site, however, and said there were only two seeps at the Labadie plant.
The ash ponds have been cited by both opponents and supporters of the recently adopted Franklin County land use regulation amendments which would make Ameren’s replacement for the ponds — a dry storage landfill — a permitted use under county codes.
Those codes are being challenged in circuit court after members of the Labadie Environmental Organization filed a writ seeking judicial review of the codes and the county commission’s process for adopting them.
In all, seven of Ameren Missouri’s 12 coal ash ponds were given “poor” ratings.
Dam safety engineers were hired to inspect the integrity of 374 coal ash ponds and impoundments nationally following the 2008 Kingston, Tenn., ash spill, where a similar 84-acre impoundment breached, spilling 1.1 billion gallons of ash slurry into the Emory River, the opposite shore and the Clinch River.
Ameren isn’t disputing the EPA findings, which indicated only one “significant” hazard potential, at the company’s Sioux power plant in West Alton, but did challenge the “poor” ratings, said Mike Cleary, Ameren communications executive.
“The EPA recognized there are no structural problems which need immediate attention,” Cleary said. “Many of the minor repairs recommended for our ponds were discovered by Ameren’s own assessments before the EPA inspections.”
Cleary said the company will have all repair work done by the end of the calendar year.
The EPA assigned hazard potential ratings to all of the impoundments ranging from “less than low” to “low” to “significant” to “high.”
Aside from the Sioux pond, all of the company’s other Missouri facilities were rated “low.”
No ash pond or impoundment the EPA inspected was found to pose an immediate risk, but more than 100 were rated “poor.”
According to The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, only three other impoundments in Missouri, out of 41 in all, were given “poor” labels.
All are located at Empire District Electric’s Asbury plant in the Joplin area.
Cleary said mercury emissions reported earlier this year ranking the Labadie power plant near the top nationally were accurate and said the figures were part of a routine annual report to the EPA.
“The mercury emissions are a direct correlation to the amount of coal burned by a facility,” Cleary said.
The Labadie plant is the largest power producer for the company.
“It is not surprising that the Labadie plant is high on the list every year since it is one of the largest coal-fired power plants in the country,” Cleary said.
He said mercury is a fraction of a percent of the plant’s total emissions and noted that the EPA is expected to issue a new rule next month requiring coal-fired power plants to reduce mercury emissions by over 90 percent within three to four years.
“We are confident we will meet the new standards,” Cleary said.