Environmental Protection Agency | St. Louis Public Radio

Environmental Protection Agency

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

The Missouri Department of Natural Resources has scrapped its proposal to regulate disposal sites for coal-fired power plants, a plan that environmentalists and federal regulators heavily criticized.

The plan would have required utilities monitor groundwater and clean up contamination near ponds and landfills that store byproducts of coal combustion, which contain toxic chemicals like mercury, arsenic and lead. Environmental groups, residents near power plants and the Environmental Protection agency wrote letters to the state agency earlier this year saying that the plan won’t address groundwater contamination.

DNR officials chose not to submit the proposed regulations to the Environmental Protection Agency because the federal agency did not give clear guidance on enforcing cleanup at the sites, said Chris Nagel, DNR’s solid waste director.

The West Lake Landfill, seen from St. Charles Rock Road in Bridgeton.
File Photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

The Environmental Protection Agency has decided to conduct additional tests for radioactive contamination at the West Lake Landfill, which would delay its excavation of the Superfund site.

When the EPA region that oversees Missouri released its final plan last September to remove 70% of the radioactivity at the site, officials said the cleanup would begin after they spent 18 months planning how to remove the World War II-era waste.

EPA officials announced this week that parties responsible for the landfill signed an agreement with the agency to design the excavation plan. Because of the additional testing, the cleanup won’t begin for two and a half years, EPA spokesperson Ben Washburn said.

A company that makes dicamba-resistant soybeans and cotton wants to expand use of the controversial weed killer to corn. But critics and experts questioning the logic of the petition.

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

The Environmental Protection Agency notified Missouri environmental regulators this month that the state’s plan for overseeing the disposal of toxic waste from coal-fired power plants is not strong enough to protect human health and the environment.

In a recent letter to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, EPA officials noted several provisions in the state’s plan that are weaker than the 2015 federal coal ash rule. Some allow the Missouri Department of Natural Resources to waive requirements for utility companies to clean up groundwater contamination or even monitor groundwater for toxic chemicals if they can show that it doesn’t affect drinking-water supplies or harm the environment.

Andrew Joyce won’t be growing any tomatoes this summer. His three-acre produce farm in Malden, Missouri, will lie fallow. The cause: damage from the weed killer dicamba.

The water we drink is protected by federal rules, which are at the crux of a long-running fight over how far upstream that protection extends.

“Agriculture is land and water. When you’ve got control of the water, you’ve got control of the land,” said Blake Roderick with the National Waterways Conference.

Labadie resident and environmental activist Patricia Schuba looks at the Labadie Energy Center through binoculars.
Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

Every Missouri utility that’s dumping waste from coal-fired power plants into massive pits in the ground has posted data that shows significant levels of nearby groundwater contamination, according to an analysis by the Washington University Interdisciplinary Environmental Clinic.

Missouri has never regulated these pits, known as coal ash ponds, even though they’ve existed for more than 50 years.

The West Lake Landfill in Bridgeton, seen from St. Charles Rock Road.
File Photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Bridgeton Landfill LLC and other companies responsible for cleaning up the West Lake Landfill are developing a plan to study radioactive contamination in groundwater at the site.

Federal officials and community members became concerned about groundwater contamination especially after the U.S. Geological Survey released a report in 2014 that found high levels of radium in samples taken from wells at the landfill. But at the time, scientists could not conclude that it was caused by the radioactive waste at the site.

Republic Services subsidiaries Bridgeton Landfill and Rock Road Industries, the Cotter Corporation, and the U.S. Department of Energy have until June 6 to submit a plan to the Environmental Protection Agency for how they will study the groundwater.

An illustration of pollution, 2017
Rici Hoffarth | St. Louis Public Radio

The Environmental Protection Agency is considering making changes to its 2012 mercury standards, which were responsible for major improvements to Missouri’s air quality in recent years.

In 2011, a report from Environment America showed that Missouri was one of the top mercury-polluting states in the country. Since then, mercury emissions in the state have dropped by more than 75 percent.

The EPA’s mercury regulations are largely responsible for that major drop in emissions of the toxic metal. Utility companies installed pollution-control equipment at coal-fired power plants in order to comply with strict federal standards. However, the federal agency last week announced that it’s proposing to revise the rule, based on its conclusion that it’s too costly for the coal industry.

Dicamba, the controversial herbicide used on soybeans and cotton, is responsible for thousands of acres of damaged crops in recent years.

Experts say that despite new federal rules that go into effect in 2019, the drift will continue but the victims will be different.

One of many tunnels in St. Louis that collects sewage and rain water.
File photo | Véronique LaCapra | St. Louis Public Radio

The Environmental Protection Agency is giving the Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District a $48 million loan to build pump stations and sewers to help divert stormwater runoff in St. Louis County.

The federal loan funds nearly half of the $97 million cost to construct the series of wastewater projects that will be connected to the Deer Creek Sanitary Tunnel. The 4-mile underground tunnel, which would run through Webster Groves, Brentwood, Richmond Heights and other nearby municipalities, is designed to collect and separate wastewater from sewage. MSD began building the tunnel earlier this year.

The Environmental Protection Agency is looking to remove thousands of acres of wetlands and miles of waterways from Clean Water Act protections.

The EPA said Tuesday it believes the proposed changes to the “Waters of the United States” rule will reduce inefficiencies and allow landowners to have the freedom they need over their property.

Workers for the Metropolitan Sewer District begin to demolish a house on Greer Avenue as a part of program to turn vacant properties into green spaces in March 2017.
Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

The city of St. Louis and the U.S. Geological Survey this month are starting a study to determine if filling demolition sites with clean soil instead of building materials can help address one of St. Louis’ biggest environmental problems: sewage overflows.

Typically, contractors working for the city fill the basement with concrete and other materials from the demolished building. In north St. Louis, they recently began filling some basements with soil that’s been tested for environmental toxins. City and federal officials want to compare how well the two methods can absorb stormwater runoff.

The Environmental Protection Agency has finalized its plan to remove radioactive waste from the West Lake Landfill Superfund site.

The $205 million plan intends to remove about 70 percent of the site’s radioactivity and dispose of the waste at an out-of-state facility. The EPA will spend the next year and a half determining how to clean up the site and how to keep workers and the area residents safe during excavation.

The West Lake Landfill, in the distance, sits adjacent to the Bridgeton Landfill, right.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated at 12:10 p.m. Sept. 28 — The Environmental Protection Agency has finalized its plan to remove radioactive waste from the West Lake Landfill Superfund site.

The chosen solution will remove about 70 percent of the site’s radioactivity and dispose of the waste at an out-of-state facility. The $205 million plan is similar, though less expensive, to what officials proposed in February.

The West Lake Landfill in Bridgeton, seen from St. Charles Rock Road.
File Photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

On Thursday, the Environmental Protection Agency approved plans to clean up radioactive waste at the West Lake Landfill Superfund site.

The agency plans to remove about 70 percent of the site’s radioactivity and dispose of the waste at an off-site facility. The entire process is estimated to cost $205 million and take about four and a half years to complete.

Veolia's incinerator in Sauget, Ill.
Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

This story has been updated to include comments from the EPA.

The Environmental Protection Agency could loosen its requirement that an East St. Louis incinerator monitor its emissions for heavy metals that could be harmful to human health.

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

The Environmental Protection Agency has changed its regulations to give states more authority over how utilities should dispose and monitor pollution from toxic waste generated by coal-fired power plants. Environmental advocates in Missouri and Illinois warn that the newly revised rule will not do enough to protect water quality and human health.

The amendments, approved Tuesday by acting EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler, lowered standards for several chemicals, such as lead, that are found in coal-ash waste. It also extends the deadline for utilities to close its coal-ash ponds and allows state officials to oversee and stop groundwater monitoring at coal-ash waste sites.

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

Just before former Gov. Eric Greitens resigned, he signed a bill to regulate coal-ash waste, a toxic byproduct of coal-fired power plants.

Coal ash, also known as coal combustion residuals, contains a number of heavy metals, including lead and arsenic, that are known to cause cancer. While some of the waste does become recycled, Ameren Missouri and other utilities dispose coal ash into landfills and ponds.

Albert Kelly, former head of the EPA's Superfund Task Force, and EPA Region 7 administrator Cathy Stepp attend a town hall in Bridgeton about the West Lake Landfill Superfund site in October 2017
File photo | St. Louis Public Radio

The head of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund Task Force resigned Tuesday after one year in the role, leaving residents in northwest St. Louis County unsure about the fate of a proposal to clean up West Lake Landfill.

Albert Kelly, former EPA senior advisor, did not immediately return a call for comment. Media reports say the ex-banking executive resigned after relentless bad press about his financial dealings. Before he joined the EPA, Kelly helped administrator Scott Pruitt get financing to pay for a mortgage and to buy a minor league baseball team. Later, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. banned Kelly from the industry because of a previous banking violation.

The Missouri Sierra Club and its supporters gathered in front of Ameren Missouri's headquarters in St. Louis in April 2018 to protest against proposed regulations that could weaken oversight of coal ash waste.
Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

As environmentalists voiced concerns in Washington about possible changes to the Environmental Protection Agency's rules on disposing coal ash waste, some in Missouri chose to express their opposition by staging a protest at a major utility corporation's doorstep. 

The Missouri chapter of the Sierra Club gathered a small band of supporters Tuesday at Ameren Missouri's headquarters in St. Louis. They held large signs that showed images of Ameren's four power plants in Missouri and listed details about the toxic heavy metals that coal ash contains, such as arsenic.

Ameren Missouri announced recently that it plans to close all of its coal ash ponds by 2022. However, activists want the regulators to address the contamination the ponds have already caused and are unhappy that Ameren has chosen to close its ponds by leaving them in place.

A view of Lake Taneycomo in February 2018.
Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

On a bright, brisk winter day in Branson, Mo., several dedicated fishermen tried to catch trout in Lake Taneycomo, a fast-moving, ribbon-shaped lake that snakes around the city.

The water appeared clear, but the lake has some ongoing issues, said David Casaletto, executive director of Ozarks Water Watch, a water quality group. For example, heavy rains in the summer have caused low levels of dissolved oxygen, which has hurt the trout population.

Under a recently proposed water quality rule from the Environmental Protection Agency, Lake Taneycomo, Mark Twain Lake and Lake of the Ozarks are among 113 lakes and reservoirs in Missouri that would be defined as “impaired” or too polluted for human use.

The West Lake Landfill, seen from St. Charles Rock Road in Bridgeton.
File Photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated March 5 with new public comments deadline  The Environmental Protection Agency has released the full details of its proposal to remove radioactive waste from the West Lake Landfill. The agency will make a final decision after a public comment period.

The West Lake Landfill, in the distance, sits adjacent to the Bridgeton Landfill.
File Photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated on March 5 to note new deadline for public comments  — The Environmental Protection Agency has released its plan for cleaning up radioactive waste at West Lake Landfill.

But officials say they still want to hear from community members on all the proposed remedies, not just the one the agency selected.

The EPA asked for feedback on three elements of its plan: Does the EPA’s proposed excavation plan address public concerns regarding the thoroughness of the removal? How should excavation differ between waste areas? And, where should the radioactive material go after it’s removed? Access all the plan’s documents on the EPA’s website.

Residents who live near West Lake Landfill gathered at John Calvin Presbyterian Church in Bridgeton after the EPA announced its remediation plan. (Feb 1, 2018)
Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

When the Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday announced its plan to remove much of the radioactive waste from the West Lake Landfill, some activists and residents celebrated.

But many residents expressed frustration and disappointment that only some of the waste would be removed before the site is covered. They said they’re still concerned about groundwater contamination, which might not be prevented by a partial removal, and worried that they might not be able to move away if the government doesn’t come up with a buyout plan. Some still don’t trust that the EPA can deliver on its promises.

The West Lake Landfill, in the distance, sits adjacent to the Bridgeton Landfill, right.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

The Environmental Protection Agency proposal to partially remove nuclear weapons waste from a northwest St. Louis County landfill marks a major shift in approach to a problem that’s plagued residents for decades.

Since 1990, federal officials have either passed the buck on remediating West Lake Landfill or proposed building a cap over the site, which does little to prevent the tons of radioactive waste from contaminating groundwater.

On Thursday, EPA head Scott Pruitt announced his “Excavation Plus” proposal to remove much of the waste, which is about 600 feet from an underground fire in the adjacent Bridgeton Landfill, and permanently cover the rest.

Here's a guide to our coverage.

The West Lake Landfill in Bridgeton, seen from St. Charles Rock Road.
File Photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated at 3 p.m. to clarify how much waste would be removed and with additional reaction  — The Environmental Protection Agency has decided on a partial removal of World War II-era radioactive waste at the West Lake Landfill, in northwest St. Louis County.

The EPA proposed a remedy that would remove “the majority of the radioactive material” and construct a cover system to “best protect the community of Bridgeton over the long term,” the agency said today in a news release.

Flares at the Bridgeton Landfill are used to burn off smelly underground gases.
Véronique LaCapra | St. Louis Public Radio

The Environmental Protection Agency is expected to soon announce its plans to clean up the waste in West Lake Landfill. For people who live near the landfill in north St. Louis County, the decision couldn’t come soon enough, as the waste sits approximately 600 feet from an underground smoldering fire.

The landfill has been on the EPA’s National Priorities List since 1990. Eighteen years later, the EPA under the administration of President George W. Bush recommended capping the landfill. The waste has sat at the site since its former owner, Cotter Corporation, dumped it there in 1973.

EPA officials may decide to remove the waste entirely, remove it in part, or cap the site.

An aerial view of Lake of the Ozarks.
Courtesy Lake of the Ozarks Convention & Visitor Bureau

The Environmental Protection Agency has released its proposal for tackling polluted runoff in Missouri's largest lakes.

But environmentalists say the EPA's plan, like the state's plan that was released in October, is not strong enough to address pollution. 

Missouri does not set limits for nitrogen and phosphorus, nutrients that can cause fish kills and create dead zones in excessive quantities. A Clean Water Act settlement last year with the Missouri Coalition for the Environment required the EPA to devise a rule to regulate nutrient pollution in Missouri's lakes by Dec. 15, unless the Missouri Department of Natural Resources filed its own proposal by that date. The state failed to submit a plan by the deadline. 

A fire rages out of control in a warehouse after walls collapsed during a five-alarm fire in St. Louis last Wednesday. Nearly 200 St. Louis firefighters battled the warehouse containing numerous paper products and nearly 200,000 candles.
Bill Greenblatt | UPI

Environmental Protection Agency officials say there is no evidence of asbestos in the debris from an intense fire that occurred in south St. Louis last week. 

Officials from the EPA and the St. Louis City Department of Health presented the findings at a Shaw Neighborhood Association meeting Monday night. The EPA sent 80 samples to a laboratory to be tested for asbestos. The first 21 were sampled on Friday in areas close to the warehouse on Park Avenue and test results indicated that three of them contained asbestos fibers.

That prompted the city department of health to request additional samples that were collected the next day in areas downwind from the site.

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