Ameren officials said Friday the energy company will cap and monitor the Labadie power plant’s coal combustion residuals (CCR), more commonly referred to as coal ash ponds.
The remedy chosen is the safest and quickest way to clean up the site, according to Ameren’s Warren Wood, vice president of regulatory and legislative affairs.
Ameren released its decision online Friday morning.
“We know this is important to the region, public and to us as well,” Wood said. “We care about this for the surrounding communities. We believe it’s best for the environment, for the surrounding communities and our customers.”
Coal ash, the waste product from burning coal for energy, can contain heavy metals like arsenic, lead, chromium and mercury, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The Labadie plant has two ponds that contain the coal ash from the plant.
Ameren held a public forum in late May about the Labadie power plant. The company was required by EPA to host the meeting.
The company also was required by the EPA to conduct a corrective measures assessment (CMA) and share its findings. The utility company was then tasked with providing options with dealing with the coal ash. Ameren presented five options at the meeting.
Ameren hired environmental and engineering consulting company Haley Aldrich to conduct the assessment.
Steven Putich, consultant with Haley Aldrich, was in charge of identifying the benefits to each of the five options.
All of the options will close the ponds. Four of the options recommend using a plastic cover. One option would include removing the coal ash from the ponds.
The option that was chosen by Ameren stems from that meeting. The company went with alternative No. 1 from that meeting, “Closure in Place (CIP) and Monitored Natural Attenuation (MMA).”
That means the company will close off the ponds using a lining to prevent coal ash from the ponds’ basins from getting into the groundwater. Ameren will continuously monitor the groundwater and release the data annually.
Members of the community said they are worried about the safety of their drinking water during the late May meeting.
“Absolutely it’s safe,” Craig Giesmann, senior manager for environmental services at Ameren, said. “We’ve done tons of analysis and performed numerical methods, modeling, physical sampling in and around all of our facilities. The panel of industry experts that we have sampled are again, nationally known experts. They are certifying that the drinking water is safe.”
As The Missourian has previously reported, local residents were calling for the full removal of the coal ash from the ponds.
Patricia Schuba, Labadie Environmental Organization (LEO) president, is a major advocate for the removal of the coal ash.
“It’s disappointing for sure. We would have liked them to do clean closure,” Schuba said. “We haven’t had a chance to have an expert look into the arguments of why they need to leave (the coal ash) there, but there are some sort of little details that will show the pollution levels after they remove the materials that would definitely be lower. They have to be.”
Ameren will begin the project in mid-September. It will cost $50 million. Wood said that the process will take up to two years.
Cost isn’t a factor in the decision, Ameren said. The company estimated the cost of removing the coal ash would be $2.4-2.9 billion, and could take more than 35 years to complete.
Schuba argued that cost could be a factor.
“There’s not enough information from across the nation of really how long it takes to do these things,” Schuba said. “All these companies are putting out these really high dollar amounts and time frames that are very long and using that as a reason to not clean this up.”
The EPA guidelines that Ameren is following were made in 2015, which is only four years ago.
Wood said the company’s choice for capping and monitoring the ponds also stems from what the community of Labadie has available. He explained there wasn’t a viable rail system to move the coal ash and that the process of trucking it would take decades.
“There is a limit of how much ash can be dredged,” Wood said. “We would use a suction pipe to dredge it out, load trucks and sanitize it all in a day. That could take decades.”
He also said that with so many trucks coming in and out of the power plant, that could damage the roads and possibly cause more traffic accidents.
Ameren will use a impermeable layer, or engineered fabric that will keep water from passing through, to line the ponds. Wood said it is 100 times stronger than what the EPA required.
Not Giving Up
Schuba said that plans for the future are not clear.
“We’re going to monitor it and follow the data they have to report,” Schuba said. “We are not going to give up on having it cleaned up. We are now at the last phases of anything that could be done. We have to see if there are larger entities that are willing to sue on our behalf. That’s really what’s left. The community can’t afford a large, multimillion dollar lawsuit.”
She also recommended that residents monitor their own water for contamination.
Wood said that the water near the plant will see the amount of molybdenum go down.
At the May meetings, Ameren’s outside toxicologist, Dr. Lisa J.N. Bradley, said results showed 96 percent of the groundwater in the wells next to the ash ponds are within groundwater protection standards and considered safe. The other 4 percent of wells had high levels of molybdenum.
Molybdenum is a trace mineral found in foods such as milk, cheese, vegetables and meats. Taken in small doses, it is considered safe.
“When the mechanism is in place, that stops water infiltration,” Wood said. “Those metals will go down.”
He said that the rivers, wells and other groundwater sources are not contaminated and that Ameren’s continuous monitoring will keep that from occurring.