ST CHARLES, Mo. — The Environmental Protection Agency said it's been blocked from testing the largest source of drinking water in the City of St. Charles.
This comes after the city shut down five of its seven wells over contamination concerns.
The EPA said in a statement that it has repeatedly requested that the City of St. Charles provide EPA access to the site to sample.
The EPA said it was prepared to do sampling on Monday, but it said, "late on Friday afternoon, December 2, the City informed EPA of additional requirements needed before the City would allow access, and the EPA said these requirements were not possible to get accomplished by the 5th."
St. Charles mayor Dan Borgmeyer said because the EPA did not meet an insurance requirement, testing was denied.
"Every contractor that enters that property provides that document and insurance," he said. "For some reason, the EPA says they can't do that because their contractor doesn't have it. Well, get a contractor that has it, OK?"
In an email to 5 On Your Side, the EPA said, "City representatives verbally informed EPA that the City had granted EPA and its contractors access and there would be no further requirements to secure access to City-owned property. However, late on Friday afternoon, December 2, the City notified EPA of additional requirements that it was imposing on EPA’s contractors and subcontractors before the City would allow access for the December 5 sampling."
5 On Your Side asked what the city said the outlined requirements were, and if the EPA plans to complete those requirements.
"These requirements included, among other things, the execution of an 11-page license agreement by each of EPA’s contractors and subcontractors accessing City property, that each of EPA’s contractors name the City as an 'additional named insured' party on their insurance policies, and that each of EPA’s contractors pay a license fee. EPA has shared these new requirements with our contractors and subcontractors, and they are reviewing," the EPA said in an email.
Borgmeyer said Ameren Missouri caused the contamination and is responsible for cleaning it up.
"We checked every business in the well-head district. And not one of those businesses disseminates any of the vinyl chlorine or the contaminates being found in the water, only Ameren," he said.
But Ameren Missouri stands by the EPA's claim that the source of contamination cannot be proven until testing actually happens.
"Once this determination has been made, EPA can either require Ameren to perform additional cleanup actions if the contamination is determined to be from the substation, or EPA will attempt to identify who is responsible for the contamination if it is not from the Ameren substation," the EPA said regarding the need to test.
"We have remediated all of that contamination outside of our substation, to the extent that we know," Ameren Missouri’s Director of Environmental Services Craig Giesmann said.
In a previous interview with 5 On Your Side, he added that Ameren took "aggressive actions to help protect well water in the City of St. Charles" more than a decade ago.
The mayor said the city has already explored other options, like opening a new wellhead district.
“I am moving forward with a new wellhead district," he said. "We’ve identified an engineering firm, we’re identifying property, we’re doing some sample testing.”
He estimated this idea to cost around $40 million, something he believes Ameren should be responsible for providing.
"We're done with testing. We know Ameren is the one with the chemicals, they're the ones that caused the problem, and we want restitution," he said.
Ameren said it's been transparent throughout this whole process.
"We constantly meet with each one of the agencies on a consistent basis and make sure we're really being transparent and open with findings that we have," Geismann said.
Kara Elms with St. Charles Clean Water Advocates is reacting to the new information, too.
"Ameren is supposed to be testing under direction of EPA to see what's there and now that access is denied. So we're kind of like "Hey, city, can we get that sampling?"
Citizens like Elms just want to see accountability all around.
"Obviously we'd like to hold the EPA's feet to the fire if they're not doing something right, but also if the City isn't doing something right, we'd like to know."
The EPA said it is reviewing these new requirements with its contractors. It's also evaluating the best way to move forward after this delay.
It released this statement in full Wednesday:
"The EPA is committed to investigating recent detections of 1,2 dichloroethylene (DCE) and vinyl chloride (VC) in the Elm Point Wellfield to ensure that there are no current or future threats to human health or the environment. To date, St. Charles residents continue to drink water that meets all federal and state drinking water requirements.
The Safe Drinking Water Act provides that the maximum contaminant levels (MCLs) for DCE and VC are based on long-term exposure. The Missouri Department of Natural Resources, who implements the SDWA for the State of Missouri, bases MCL drinking water violations at the tap on a running annual average of four quarters of sampling data. Based on information the City has provided to EPA, the City chose to shut off City Well 9, a production well, based on a single uncollaborated, estimated data point significantly below the MCL (at the wellhead, not at the tap). Based on EPA’s data, none of the production wells shut down by the City are in violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act.
To investigate the City’s concerns, EPA has repeatedly requested that the City of St. Charles provide EPA access to the site in order to conduct sampling, which is necessary to determine the source of contaminant concentrations in PZ-11, a monitoring well in the Wellfield. On October 13, 2022, the Agency notified the City of its intent to perform important characterization field work at the Site in late November/early December and that access to City property was critical in being able to perform the work in a timely manner. The EPA was prepared to mobilize its contractors to perform this work beginning Monday, December 5, 2022. However late on Friday afternoon, December 2, the City informed EPA of additional requirements needed before the City would allow access. These agreements are extensive and required legal review, which could not have been accomplished in the time between receiving the notification and the long-planned start of work.
Accordingly, without access granted by the City, the EPA was required to cancel the planned sampling event. The EPA is prepared to conduct additional sampling this winter if EPA obtains the City’s consent to access. The sampling is required to determine the next steps needed to address any contaminants in and around the City wells. Given the most recent delay caused by the lack of access, the earliest that EPA anticipates initiating field work would be in January, if the contractor and drilling equipment are available. If they are not available, an additional delay would be likely.
The work EPA had planned to start on December 5 was to evaluate the source of volatile organic compound (VOC) contamination that was unexpectedly found in PZ-11, a monitoring well near City Well 6, in December 2021. Ameren had planned to start this evaluation in April 2022, but due to access issues, EPA eventually took over the work in October. The source for this contamination has not been confirmed to be from the Ameren substation, where previous cleanup measures and routine sampling had shown the contaminated groundwater plume had been shrunk back to within the boundaries of the substation.
It is critical that EPA perform characterization sampling on City-owned property around City Well 6 to determine if the source of the contamination is from the Ameren substation or if there is another unknown source that is responsible for these new concentration levels. Once this determination has been made, EPA can either require Ameren to perform additional cleanup actions if the contamination is determined to be from the substation, or EPA will attempt to identify who is responsible for the contamination if it is not from the Ameren substation.
Once EPA is able to obtain site access from the City and reschedule the work with EPA’s contractor, it will take approximately two weeks to conduct the field work and EPA will be able to share the data with the public after it is analyzed by the lab and shared with the property owners.
EPA does not have any data collected from Ameren on PZ-11, the nearby monitoring well, since November 17, 2022, or from City Well 6 since October 28, 2022. Ameren had been conducting biweekly sampling of City Well 6 and PZ-11 since December 2021. However, on November 17, 2022, the City stopped providing Ameren access to perform sampling."