Missouri Communities Pay a High Price for Lack of Toxic Coal Waste Regulation

The community surrounding the Labadie power plant in Missouri has been exposed to 40 years of coal ash pollution.

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Even though Patricia Schuba and I live nearly a thousand miles apart, we’ve been seeing a lot of each other lately. Patricia is the president of the Labadie Environmental Organization and the director of the coal ash program for Citizens Coal Council.

In May, she traveled to Washington, D.C. as a Clean Air Ambassador, representing her home state of Missouri. In July, she returned to Washington to testify at an Environmental Protection Agency public hearing on power plant water pollution, and in October, she and I spoke on a panel about the impacts of coal ash at an environmental conference.

Patricia represents her community in the fight to clean up coal ash pollution. In the fifth part of our ongoing series leading up to the 5th anniversary of the coal ash spill in Kingston, TN, Patricia tells us about the Ameren power plant in Labadie, MO.

In the fall of 2009, the topic of a proposed coal ash landfill monopolized the conversation at a local book club meeting in the small river town of Labadie, Missouri, the home of Ameren’s Labadie Power Station, Missouri’s largest coal-fired power plant.

Within one month, the book club organized as a nonprofit and held its first meeting in the basement of a local church. We are now called Labadie Environmental Organization (LEO) and we have successfully engaged the extended community of the metropolitan St. Louis area, regulators at the state and national levels, and legally challenged the permitting of dumping toxic wastes in the water table of the Big Muddy just west of the confluence and St. Louis. LEO’s success has been in giving voice to local people and in doing so, has begun to reclaim community power in making decisions that impact the environment and our local economies.

The community surrounding the Labadie power plant has been exposed to 40 years of coal ash pollution.

LEO and families living near coal ash sites in Missouri want EPA to promulgate a “Subtitle C” coal ash rule and a zero discharge waste water rule by May 2014 or earlier. Missouri has issues with on-site and off-site disposal of toxic coal combustion products as evidenced in the Rotary Drilling fill site and the Mississippi Lime mine-fill case. In a state like Missouri, with karst and limestone geology, these toxins can easily contaminate water.

“Our families are drinking, bathing in and using this water for everything in our community and we can see the airborne coal ash coming off the ponds and fill sites,” said LEO member Christine Alt, who has two small children growing up less than a mile from the Labadie coal ash lagoons. “I have to worry every day what impact this pollution will have on my children.”

LEO has engaged a cross-section of the metropolitan St. Louis area, as it turns out hundreds to local hearings and collects thousands of petitions and postcard signatures. The community has maintained that they should have a voice in the process of determining policy; they face water pollution from a 40-year old leaking, unlined coal ash lagoon and exposure to airborne particulate matter from uncovered mounds of ash. Their local utility is moving forward with plans to build a 400 acre coal ash landfill, sitting in the water table, east of the existing lagoons. Monitoring wells thousands of feet from the leaking pond show arsenic levels at six times the Drinking Water Standard. Alarmingly, hundreds depend on the local aquifer for drinking water and irrigation of crops. Midwestern states like Missouri rank high in lack of regulation, risks of water pollution and cancer rates.

LEO members have traveled to the state’s capital and to Washington, D.C. to raise support for regulations that protect communities in a time when legislators and governors are ignoring these risks. We want clean water for our community and are proud to join the hundreds of other communities who deserve the same.

If you missed it, read part one of this blog series, “No EPA Progress on Anniversary of Coal Ash Disaster”. The series continued with Russ Maddox on the impacts of coal mined in Alaska and burned at Alaskan power plants, Lisa Graves-Marcucci of EIP on the work being done to clean up the pollution at the Little Blue Run coal ash impoundment, and Clean Water Action’s Nic Clark on the contamination of Michigan’s waters from coal ash.

Learn more about coal ash in an interactive infographic:

Jared was the head coach of Earthjustice's advocacy campaign team from 2004 to 2014.

Earthjustice’s Washington, D.C., office works at the federal level to prevent air and water pollution, combat climate change, and protect natural areas. We also work with communities in the Mid-Atlantic region and elsewhere to address severe local environmental health problems, including exposures to dangerous air contaminants in toxic hot spots, sewage backups and overflows, chemical disasters, and contamination of drinking water. The D.C. office has been in operation since 1978.