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Health, Science, Environment

Ameren Missouri plans to close all coal ash ponds but will leave the waste in place

An active coal-ash pond at the Meramec Energy Center in St. Louis County in February 2018.
File Photo | Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio
An active coal ash pond at the Meramec Energy Center in St. Louis County. Ameren Missouri will close all 15 coal ash ponds by 2023.

Over the next five years, Ameren Missouri plans to close the ponds it uses to dump the byproduct of its coal-fired power plants.

The company has 15 ponds among its four power plants. Ameren closed two out of the nine ponds at the Meramec Energy Center in St. Louis County earlier this year. Coal-fired power plants have traditionally used water to handle coal ash, but recent advances in technology are allowing utilities such as Ameren to use dry systems instead.

That’s what the company plans to do, said Craig Giesmann, the manager of water quality at Ameren Missouri.

“As a result, we no longer need to sluice ash to ash ponds,” Geismann said. “After those dry handling modifications are complete, we’ll be able to handle that ash in the dry form and it’ll then be handled at a landfill.”

Coal ash contains mercury, lead, arsenic and other chemicals that can be harmful to human health. Environmental activists, such as the Sierra Club, have long expressed concerns that Ameren’s coal ash ponds, several of which are unlined, could contaminate groundwater and pose health risks to rural residents who depend on wells for their drinking water. Ameren plans to close the ponds but leave the waste in place.

 

 

An aerial shot of one closed and one partially closed coal ash pond at the Meramec Energy Center in St. Louis in February 2018.
Credit Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio
Ameren has already closed two out of the nine coal ash ponds at the Meramec Energy Center in St. Louis County.

“A lot of these ash ponds are very deep and when we looked at it in terms of digging it up and taking it somewhere else, it presents a lot of challenges and would take years and years to complete,” Geismann said.

Ameren installed liners at the two closed ponds at the Meramec Energy Center, but has yet to determine how the other ponds will be lined. 

Maxine Lipeles, director of the Washington University Interdisciplinary Environmental Law Clinic, argued it would be 

A groundwater monitoring well at the Meramec Energy Center in February 2018.
Credit Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio
The Missouri Department of Natural Resources is drafting regulations to require utilities to monitor groundwater at coal ash ponds. It set a March 2 deadline for utilities, including Ameren Missouri, to post groundwater monitoring data.

  more environmentally responsible to excavate the ash and transport it to a “secure location.”

Coal ash has been subject to federal regulations since December 2014. However, since it is not classified as hazardous waste, the Environmental Protection Agency has left enforcement up to the states. The Missouri Department of Natural Resources is in the process of drafting regulations to require utilities such as Ameren to conduct groundwater monitoring. The agency set March 2 as the deadline for utilities to post their groundwater data.

In reports that Ameren plans to release online Friday morning, the company states that the ponds are not hazardous to human health, based on the results of its water quality testing.

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