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EPA: Insufficient data to prove Ameren's Labadie plant exceeds sulfur dioxide limits

Eli Chen
One of Ameren's air quality monitoring stations near Augusta, Mo.

The Environmental Protection Agency has declared that there isn't enough information to determine if the air around Ameren Missouri's largest power plant is polluted. 

The federal agency had until July 2 to say whether an area around the power plant in Labadie, Mo., about 40 miles from St. Louis, exceeded federal safety limits for sulfur dioxide. The gas is a byproduct of coal production, which can cause respiratory illnesses, such as asthma, and exacerbate cardiovascular conditions at high levels.

After reviewing air quality monitoring data taken by Ameren, the Sierra Club and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, the EPA has given the area around the plant the "unclassifiable" designation, which means that there isn't sufficient data to say whether the air quality violates regulations. This is the opposite of what officials said they would do in February, when they announced plans to give the area the "nonattainment" designation, which would indicate that the air is polluted and unsafe. 

"We think that is the right approach and are committed to continue to collect the monitoring data and further confirm that the area's meeting the air quality standard," said Steve Whitworth, Ameren Missouri's director of environmental services. 

Missouri's Department of Natural Resources also concluded last year that the area should be designated as "unclassifiable." 

The EPA's boundaries for the area given the "unclassifiable" designation, which extends into Franklin and St. Charles counties.
Credit EPA Technical Support Document


Meanwhile, local activists were surprised by the federal agency's announcement, hoping that the area would receive the "nonattainment" designation. Many have expressed concern about the plant's effects on public health. 

Patricia Schuba, who lives about two miles from the plant, hoped that the EPA would act on its preliminary designation and force the Ameren to reduce emissions at its Labadie operations. 

"I'm shocked and numb," she said. "I thought it would be impossible for the EPA to change it determination."

Schuba is also the founder of the Labadie Environmental Organization, a group of citizens who want Ameren's Labadie plant to install scrubbers, devices that control air pollution.

In March, the Sierra Club also filed comments, compiled by the Washington University in St. Louis' Interdisciplinary Law Clinic, that argued for the nonattainment designation. 

"The Environmental Protection Agency, which is tasked with protecting the public health from dangerous levels of air pollution, has failed to do its job," chapter director John Hickey said. "What political shenanigans have convinced the EPA to change its mind and not do its job to protect the residents, I don't know.

Hickey added that the organization's lawyers are looking for ways to appeal the EPA's designation. 

Eli is the science and environment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.

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