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Environmental Groups Demand Groundwater Testing Near Ameren Power Plants

(Map created for the Labadie Environmental Organization based on Missouri Department of Natural Resources well location data)

Environmental groups are once again urging state officials to require groundwater monitoring at Ameren’s coal-fired power plants in eastern Missouri.

The Sierra Club and Labadie Environmental Organization submitted a letter to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources on Thursday asking the state not to allow Ameren to build new coal ash landfills before testing groundwater for contamination.

Maxine Lipeles co-directs the Interdisciplinary Environmental Law Clinic at Washington University.

“Unless you know what exists today, you’ll never be able to know whether the new landfills would be leaking, because whatever comes out of the landfill is going to be the same kind of contamination that’s probably already coming out of the ash ponds,” Lipeles said.

Lipeles says many of the people who live near the Labadie, Meramec, and Rush Island plants get their drinking water from groundwater wells.

Coal ash contains toxic substances like arsenic and lead, and a number of Ameren’s coal ash ponds in Missouri and Illinois are known to be leaking.

In response to our request for comment, Ameren provided the following:

“Although our existing permits at our Labadie Energy Center do not require groundwater monitoring, Ameren Missouri has installed monitoring wells on our plant property that reflect compliance with state and federal requirements. Going forward, we will comply with groundwater monitoring requirements by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources as part of the National Point Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit for our ash ponds.”

Lipeles says her clients have repeatedly asked the Missouri Department of Natural Resources to test groundwater near Ameren’s coal-fired power plants.

“This letter is written out of frustration,” Lipeles said.

Lipeles says the state could make groundwater monitoring a requirement of Ameren’s water pollution discharge permits (NPDES permits).

"The problem with using those permits is that all the permits for these facilities are out of date,” Lipeles said. “The one for Labadie has been expired since 1999.”

Lipeles says DNR could also require Ameren to test groundwater as part of the process toward building new coal ash landfills.

But so far, Lipeles says state regulators haven’t followed through on either option.

A spokesperson for the Missouri Department of Natural Resources said the agency had received the letter and intends to review it.

Follow Véronique LaCapra on Twitter: @KWMUScience