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Sierra Club Alleges Thousands Of Air Quality Violations At Ameren's St. Louis-Area Plants

Updated Thursday 10:15 p.m.

The Sierra Club says Ameren has been routinely violating air quality standards at its St. Louis-area power plants.

In a Notice of Intent to Sue delivered to Ameren on Wednesday afternoon, the Sierra Club alleges the company's Labadie, Meramec, and Rush Island plants have exceeded air pollution limits almost 10,000 times since 2008.

Credit (Sarah Skiold-Hanlin, St. Louis Public Radio & The Beacon)
Standing among the crowd, Dr. William Kincaid (left) and Andrea Gross (right) both spoke at the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign rally in Keiner Plaza.

The alleged violations involve "opacity," a measure of fine particulate matter, or soot, being emitted by the coal-fired plants in the smoke from their smokestacks. Every six minutes that visible emissions exceed state air standards counts as another violation.

The Sierra Club is basing its violation tally on data obtained from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources through an open records request. Ameren uses a "continuous opacity monitoring system" to record visible smokestack emissions and reports the measurements on a quarterly basis to the Department of Natural Resources.

Speaking at a rally on Thursday in Keiner Plaza, Sierra Club’s Andy Knott said Ameren needs to do whatever it takes to bring its coal-fired power plants into compliance ― from adding pollution controls, to shutting the plants down.

“You know, these plants are outdated, they’re very old," Knott said. "The Meramec plant is 60 years old. I mean these are the dinosaurs of the energy sector. And all around us, other states are investing more and more in clean energy, and that’s what Ameren needs to do as well.”

As required by the federal Clean Air Act, the Sierra Club is giving Ameren 60-days notice of its plan to file a civil lawsuit. The group says it is willing to discuss matters with the company during that period, in the hope of obtaining an "early and prompt resolution of these allegations."

Karl Frank lives in Oakville, about two miles from Ameren’s Meramec plant.

He says his eleven-year-old son Joey has always loved playing sports, from cross-country to baseball.

“We started to get concerned during soccer season a couple years ago," Frank said. "It seemed odd to us that he was wheezing, and breathing the way that he was, because it’s not something that’s typical in our family.”

Frank says tests didn’t find anything wrong with Joey’s lungs, but the doctor said he had something called exercise-induced asthma. "It’s kind of common in our area, " Frank said. "A lot of kids are getting this exercise-induced asthma, due to environmental factors.”

Environmental factors like poor air quality.

If inhaled, fine particulate matter ― like the kind in power plant smoke ― can get deep into the lungs. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, it can cause serious health problems, including aggravated asthma and premature death. Children, older adults, and people with heart or lung diseases are most at risk.

In response to our request for comment, Ameren's Vice President of Environmental Services, Michael Menne, provided the following statement:

"Ameren Missouri has at all times operated our energy centers in accordance with EPA regulations and permitting requirements. Contrary to the assertions by the Sierra Club, unauthorized opacity exceedances occur infrequently and existing pollution control equipment removes approximately 99 percent of particulates from the flue gas stream. We report all of our emissions as required to EPA, and the agency has not cited our Missouri coal-fired energy centers for opacity or permit violations. The filing of such litigation is a common tactic used by opponents who are striving to remove coal from energy choices available to customers."

Follow Véronique LaCapra on Twitter: @KWMUScience

Follow Sarah Skiöld-Hanlin on Twitter@Skihan