August 14, 2013 - As he promised to do in June, County Councilman Steve Stenger, D-Affton, has written a letter to the state of Missouri asking it to monitor the ground water at a coal-fired power plant in Oakville.
In the letter to Sara Parker Pauley, head of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, or DNR, Stenger requests that the state set up groundwater monitoring to protect the health of Oakville residents living near Ameren's Meramec Energy Center, a coal-fired power plant that opened in 1953 at the intersection of the Mississippi and Meramec rivers.
"I think that there's really nothing more fundamental to our health than the air we breathe and the water we drink, so I hope they do test it," Stenger told the Call. "I think they should take that very seriously. Here you have a coal plant in such close proximity to schools, residences — really an entire community."
In the letter, Stenger writes that the monitoring is necessary to determine whether contamination exists, in addition to how far that contamination may have spread.
Noting "serious pollution concerns" with the Meramec plant, Stenger asked Pauley to immediately begin monitoring for contaminants in the ground water.
"In order to protect public health," he wrote, "I urge the DNR to: 1. Require comprehensive groundwater monitoring of known and/or likely contamination at he Meramec coal ash ponds. 2. Reduce the allowable emissions of sulfur dioxide from the Meramec coal plant to levels that are safe for residents and in accordance with the Clean Air Act."
Stenger also wrote that Ameren has been disposing coal ash into unlined as ponds in the Mississippi flood plain for 60 years.
"The heavy metals and toxins present in coal ash are dangerous to public health and have been linked with neurological damage and diminished IQ. I ask that DNR exercise its considerable authority to require groundwater monitoring at this plant," the councilman wrote.
"Last summer, Ameren proposed building a new coal ash landfill on top of two ash ponds at the Meramec plant. One of those ash ponds is unlined, and the other was found to be leaking 25 years ago," Stenger wrote. "I ask that DNR not make any decisions regarding Ameren's proposed landfill until it obtains a thorough assessment of potential groundwater contamination."
The Sierra Club's "Beyond" Coal campaign organizers and a group of Oakville residents presented a petition with about 1,200 residents' signatures asking for groundwater monitoring at the plant to the County Council at its Aug. 6 meeting.
About half a dozen residents from Oakville spoke at the meeting, including former Mehlville Board of Education member Tom Diehl, who presented the petition and quoted from stories that petition signers had submitted about why they want to crack down on the coal-fired power plant.
One Oakville resident who signed the petition, Diehl said, has cardiopulmonary disorder and has family members with allergies and asthma, illnesses they attribute to the air around Ameren's coal plant.
"Citizens of St. Louis County simply want to be able to live and breathe healthfully day after day, year after year," Diehl read from the petition.
Another petition signer wrote, "We're counting on you to protect us."
Speakers thanked Stenger and called on other members of the County Council to join him in asking for action from the DNR.
Stenger will follow up with the state agency in a few weeks to see their response, he told the Call.
In a statement issued to the Call, Ameren Missouri representatives said the company has invested millions of dollars in environmental-control technology at the Oakville plant.
"Local drinking water also is safe," the company said. "We expect a renewed water quality permit for the Meramec energy center to be issued by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources in the coming months. We fully anticipate that groundwater monitoring will be part of the guidelines that will accompany the permit and we will fully comply with all requirements."