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Missourians Fed Up With Coal Ash Disposal Plans

PHOTO: Coal ash, which is the waste material left behind from burning coal, is at the center of controversy in several Missouri communities, where there are fears toxic chemicals could leak into groundwater. Photo courtesy of Sierra Club Missouri Chapter.
PHOTO: Coal ash, which is the waste material left behind from burning coal, is at the center of controversy in several Missouri communities, where there are fears toxic chemicals could leak into groundwater. Photo courtesy of Sierra Club Missouri Chapter.
January 19, 2015

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – According to the first ever federal standards on coal ash, the toxic waste from burning coal should not be dumped in landfills on unstable terrain because of the risk of groundwater contamination.

That's why environmental and health advocates are unhappy as Missouri utilities move forward with plans to do just that.

Dr. Judy Dasovich, a Springfield-area physician, sees a health risk in City Utilities' plan to expand its coal ash landfill near Springfield.

"Water is precious,” she stresses. “It is the stuff of life. We must protect it. The fact that they would even think about putting it at risk, to me, is astonishing and shocking."

Coal ash contains arsenic, mercury, lead and more than a dozen other heavy metals known to cause severe neurological defects.

A representative for City Utilities says it is reviewing the Environmental Protection Agency's new guidelines, which recommend that landfills not be placed on porous, rocky ground like that under the site, because of how quickly contaminants can travel to groundwater.

City Utilities has said that expanding the existing landfill is the most cost effective route. However, Dasovich argues that isn't looking at the bigger picture.

"If you included the external costs of polluting the water system, potentially of a four-state area, plus the cost of treating these diseases and caring for chronically ill people for a lifetime, I think that the economics might show that that argument is completely wrong," she states.

Patricia Schuba lives about three miles from the state's largest power plant in Labadie, where Ameren Missouri recently received the green light to build a coal ash disposal site in a spot where the water table is very high.

Schuba says the only long-term solution is to switch to greener energy sources and burn less coal, but in the short term, she maintains Missourians are being short-changed.

"As citizens, we have asked for responsibility in handling this material, and we have not gotten it from the utility nor the regulators in the state," she states.

The new Environmental Protection Agency regulations do lay out certain minimum structural standards for landfill and disposal ponds, and mandate utilities to perform more monitoring and inspection.

But many environmentalists say the regulations do not go far enough because they don't specifically prohibit the construction of a landfill in a floodplain, and they classify coal ash as solid waste and not hazardous waste.


Mona Shand, Public News Service - MO