Feb 26, 2019

Analysis Finds Elevated Contaminants Around Missouri Coal Ash Ponds

The analysis finds arsenic, boron and other contaminants in groundwater near Missouri coal ash ponds

Missouri coal ash plants contaminate groundwater

A Washington University data analysis found high levels of groundwater contamination near coal ash ponds at one of Missouri’s largest coal-fired power plants. The Labadie Energy Center, Ameren Missouri's largest coal-fired power plant, has been storing coal ash waste in unlined ponds for more than 50 years, according to St. Louis Public Radio.

The Washington University Interdisciplinary Environmental Law Clinic analyzed U.S. EPa data on coal ash waste disposal that began in October 2015. The researchers found that groundwater near many active ponds show levels of arsenic, boron and other disease-causing chemicals that exceed state and federal drinking water standards.

“Wherever we have data, there is contamination,” said Maxine Lipeles, director of the law clinic. “The principal risk is through groundwater contamination, which can then spread through the groundwater and can also spread from the groundwater into surface water.”

However, Ameren Missouri has concluded that the contaminants do not pose a risk to human health, stating that the data may be taken out of context.

“We intend to have reports that come out that discuss those and put those in context, as opposed to just taking numbers right out of a particular report,” said Craig Giesmann, Ameren Missouri’s water-quality manager. “Right now, all the reports we have show no impacts to drinking water wells, residential wells or the surface.”

In light of the 2015 EPA rules tightening monitoring around coal ash ponds, Ameren Missouri announced plans to cap all of its 15 coal ash ponds in Missouri, yet removing the toxic waste presents challenges. According to the rule, coal ash ponds must be built at least 5 ft above the top of the aquifer that is closest to the surface. Ameren Missouri’s ponds do not meet this standard, reported St. Louis Public Radio.