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City of St. Charles shuts down another drinking water well, citing contamination

Five of the city's seven water wells are now closed, according to the press release.

ST CHARLES, Mo. — The City of St. Charles shut down a fifth water well as concerns over contamination continue to mount.

In a press release, the city said it has now shut down five of seven wells in the Elm Point wellfield due to detections of contamination. The city said drinking water for residents and businesses is safe.

The announcement said the most recent closure was of City Well No. 9, the city's largest water production well. The announcement said the city's water treatment plant is operating at about 25% due to the closures.

"The City of St. Charles reassures its residents and business owners that the drinking water being provided throughout the City remains safe for consumption," the announcement said.

The city said the closures have forced the city to purchase additional drinking water from the City of St. Louis, which is more expensive than processing its own water.

The city has blamed the contamination on Ameren Missouri and two other companies that have since gone out of business. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) has been investigating the contamination, but the city said it is taking too long.

"The City cannot wait on the USEPA to hold Ameren Missouri and the polluting parties accountable for the spreading contamination in the wellfield," the city said in the press release. “Everybody’s concerned about the contamination.”

Kara Elms, who is with St. Charles Clean Water Advocates, a group of concerned citizens focused on the rights of citizens to have access to clean drinking water, said she is voicing a concern of several.

“We’re kind of looking for the hard facts and the data, and we’d like the city to release that,” Elms said.

Many residents are also blaming the contamination on Ameren Missouri and the two other companies that have gone out of business, but Elms said multiple parties hold the responsibility in this case.

“We want Ameren and the responsible parties to end up paying for the new well fields. Obviously, the city has a part in this too, they need to get the ball rolling,” she said.

Craig Giesmann, director of environmental services for Ameren Missouri, released this statement on Monday:

"The City of St. Charles and the U.S Environmental Protection Agency have emphasized that the drinking water in St. Charles is safe. Ameren Missouri is committed to the safety of the St. Charles community and remains strongly supportive of additional EPA-directed testing in the Elm Point Wellfield. As the EPA referenced multiple times in a public meeting on November 17, the source of the groundwater contamination is unknown. The contamination source must first be determined before pursuing a remedy and the good news is that EPA says it intends to have that source testing done soon. As EPA stated at its public meeting, Ameren Missouri has voluntarily worked for over a decade to clean up contamination from the Huster substation site and years of monitoring data show that clean-up work has been successful. We share the same goals with our fellow St. Charles residents and businesses in keeping drinking water clean and safe. Ameren Missouri has a strong record of environmental stewardship, and we intend to continue working collaboratively with the City of St. Charles, the EPA and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources by sharing data and information."

Last month, Ameren Missouri said it supports the EPA-directed testing and will continue to work with St. Charles, the EPA and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources as they have for years.

“There are certain standards by the EPA that they have, but obviously we’d like those contamination levels as close to zero as possible," Elms said.

The public comment period was extended to March 6, 2023.

To submit public comments on the issue you can email pubcomment-ees.enrd@usdoj.gov or submit them by mail to Assistant Attorney General, U.S. DOJ - ENRD, P.O. Box 7611, Washington, DC 20044-7611.

The EPA sent the following statement to 5 On Your Side:

"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."

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The comment period to the EPA on the Consent Decree with Ameren Missouri was extended to March 6, 2023, so the City continues to encourage residents and business owners to let their voices be heard on this issue.

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