Ameren: Tests show Labadie groundwater is safe

2012-05-04T00:15:00Z 2013-01-11T10:50:16Z Ameren: Tests show Labadie groundwater is safeBY JEFFREY TOMICH • > 314-340-8320

Ameren Missouri says testing at three sites around its Labadie power plant confirm that an unlined coal ash pond that had leaked for years didn’t contaminate groundwater in the area.

The St. Louis-based utility published 22 pages of laboratory analysis from the groundwater samples on its website, along with a cover letter from Golder Associates Inc., the engineering firm it hired to collect the samples and oversee testing.

The testing represents the latest effort by Ameren to overcome opposition to a proposed 400-acre coal ash landfill that it wants to construct on farm fields just east of the Labadie plant -- the state’s largest coal-fired power plant.

But opponents with the Labadie Environmental Organization say they aren’t swayed. The group has an expert reviewing Ameren’s data, but “we have limited information to evaluate the numbers they’re showing us,” said Patricia Schuba, the group’s president. Among its many questions are how water samples were collected and the exact location and depth of test wells.

“It’s interesting that they did not choose to test where the ponds are leaking, which is how you’d go about evaluating a plume on site,” Schuba said.

The summary report from Golder Associates said groundwater samples were collected on April 12 and 13 and analyzed at a lab in Chicago.

The report said concentrations of boron, the substance in coal ash most likely to leach into groundwater, were below detection levels. The engineers also said other metals such as arsenic, mercury and selenium were present, but below federal drinking water standards.

Mike Menne, Ameren Missouri’s vice president of environmental, safety and health, said sample locations on Ameren’s property were chosen because they are as close as possible to the nearest drinking water wells

A more complete report with details on piezometer installation and groundwater sampling methodology isn’t yet available, he said.

Menne acknowledged the test data isn’t extensive, but he said it provides enough information to conclude that existing ash ponds haven’t fouled the groundwater.

“If there was any contamination from the (coal ash) pond on any sort of routine basis, we certainly would have seen it,” he said.

Ameren has worked for several years to win approval for a new coal ash landfill at the Labadie plant, saying it needs more space to put coal waste because existing disposal ponds are filling up. Unlike current ponds, the ash at the planned landfill would be stored dry, in cells, and protected by a system of liners and a perimeter berm, according to Ameren’s proposal.

Menne said Ameren is currently waiting on Franklin County to select an independent engineer to review its application that will be submitted to state regulators.

Meanwhile, the utility and the county are awaiting the outcome of a lawsuit filed by the Labadie Environmental Organization and some of its members who live near the plant.

The lawsuit challenges the Franklin County commission’s approval of a zoning amendment that helps clear the way for the landfill to be permitted and built in the Missouri River floodway.

The group has said lax management of an existing coal ash pond at Labadie is reason to be skeptical of the company’s pledge to be good environmental stewards if given a permit for a new coal waste landfill.

In particular, they point to an unlined, 154-acre ash pond that leaked for 20 years before seepage was repaired this winter.

Ameren intervened in the environmental group’s lawsuit seeking to reverse the county commission’s zoning approval, and the utility wants the court to allow it to test drinking water from some plaintiffs wells.

In a letter to Ameren’s attorneys, the lawyer representing plant neighbors who filed the lawsuit said the utility violated legal procedure by not directly asking for permission to access their property before seeking a court order.

Read more from Jeffrey Tomich, who covers energy and the environment for the Post-Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @jefftomich and the Business section @postdispatchbiz.

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