ST CHARLES, Mo. — City of St. Charles residents will finally have answers soon. On Tuesday, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began testing at the Elm Point Wellfield in St. Charles to get to the bottom of who contaminated their well water.
“We wanna investigate where that’s coming from because the EPA believes the polluter pays," EPA Project Manager Clint Sperry said.
This all comes after the city shut down five of its seven wells due to traces of 1, 2-dichloroethylene and vinyl chloride found in the Elm Point Wellfield. To combat this drinking water shortage, the city has been purchasing millions of gallons of water daily from the City of St. Louis.
“Honestly we are concerned on who this contamination is coming from, how they are going to clean it up, and how they’re going to pay to protect our water," Kara Elms with St. Charles Clean Water Advocates said.
For residents like Elms, it’s been a long time coming.
“Our water has always been pure and clean. Suddenly, it’s contaminated. Who did that, where did it come from, that’s what this whole journey is about," Mayor Dan Borgmeyer said.
Borgmeyer said Ameren Missouri is responsible for this contamination and the cleanup.
But Ameren Missouri says further testing, which is what the EPA is now doing, is needed to identify the source.
In a statement, Ameren Missouri said in part:
"Until that EPA-led investigation is complete, appropriate next steps cannot be determined. No matter the source, Ameren Missouri is committed to working with the EPA and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (MDNR)."
To investigate, the EPA is using a testing method called direct push technology. Sperry said this pushed a Geoprobe, a manufactured drilling machine, into the ground to take samples of groundwater at several different increments underground.
“EPA has always used -- for investigative purposes -- this type of technology," Sperry said.
But it's something the mayor said he feels isn’t good enough.
“We feel that the testing is very superficial," he said.
The city is launching an independent investigation of their own in late January 2023. Here, the mayor said they will install 26 permanent monitoring wells at 13 locations to repeatedly sample groundwater.
But Sperry said it's the EPA's investigative methods will get residents answers.
“Instead of just putting an actual monitoring well that just sits there in the ground and doesn’t move, how do you know where the contamination is coming from if you don’t do some sort of investigation?” Sperry said.
Sperry said they’ll know who is responsible for this mess within 30 days.
For now, residents anxiously wait to hear what the fate of their water will be.
“It’s time to get hard hitting. We’re gonna hold those people responsible. They’re gonna need to do the clean up and be monetarily responsible as well," Elms said.
The mayor has suggested a temporary mobile system to turn the wells back on and pump clean water. He's also looking to build a new well field altogether. But he said these will cost at least 100 million dollars.
Read the full statement from Ameren Missouri below:
"Drinking water remains safe in St. Charles. Ameren Missouri continues to encourage all parties to work collaboratively to keep water safe.
We remain hopeful that a thorough, transparent and efficient investigation led by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will provide accurate information leading directly to determining the source of the issue, as well as constructive solutions. Until that EPA-led investigation is complete, appropriate next steps cannot be determined. No matter the source, Ameren Missouri is committed to working with the EPA and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (MDNR).
Federal regulations lay out detailed requirements to determine appropriate investigation and remedy selection procedures. The EPA has, and continues to follow, those procedures. Ameren has been fully cooperative in those efforts.
The data is clear. Ameren Missouri's cleanup of the Huster substation has been successful in reducing on-site and off-site impacts from a cleaning product last used decades ago. Enhanced treatment for chemicals confined to the substation site is now underway to eliminate any residual material trapped in clays and soils on-site. All this work will be performed under the supervision of the EPA.
- The dynamics (both the chemical fingerprint and depth underground) of some of the chemicals detected at City Well 6 are significantly different than those associated with the Huster substation remediation. Further investigation is needed.
- On behalf of more than 700 Ameren co-workers who live or work in the City and County of St. Charles, and the thousands more who live in the metropolitan St. Louis area, we share the goal of ensuring clean drinking water.
- Ameren Missouri has been transparent and cooperative through the entire process. Since 2014, the City has participated in quarterly meetings with MDNR, EPA and Ameren and has had the opportunity to review and comment upon technical reports and submittals."
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