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Testing shows hazardous chemicals found in St. Charles wellfield, mayor says

The Elm Point Wellfield is the primary drinking water supply source for the city of St. Charles.

ST CHARLES, Mo. — The Elm Point Wellfield in St. Charles has been contaminated by hazardous chemicals, according to the mayor of St. Charles. 

In a press conference Wednesday, Mayor Dan Borgmeyer said the drinking water in the city is safe, but he said steps need to be taken to keep it that way.

“I am concerned about the long-term viability to be able to provide safe drinking water to our citizens is at risk,” Borgmeyer said.

The Elm Point Wellfield is the primary drinking water supply source for the city of St. Charles. According to a release from the City of St. Charles, in November 2021, Borgmeyer said routine monitoring identified a hazardous chemical, cis-1,2-dichlorothene, was found in two of the city’s water wells. Originally, these results were considered below maximum contaminant level, a limit used by the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

But according to the City of St. Charles, in December 2021, Ameren Missouri collected groundwater samples from a monitoring well just 100 feet away from one of the previously tested and contaminated wells. Ameren found the same hazardous chemical and an additional hazardous chemical, vinyl chloride, at levels above the maximum contaminant level. According to Ameren’s continued testing, the concentration of both chemicals is increasing over time.

The City of St. Charles is saying Ameren Missouri is responsible for this waste.

“Ameren Missouri is responsible for releasing chemicals onto the ground in the wellhead district, threatening the city of St. Charles’ water supply,” Borgmeyer said.

In a news release from the City of St. Charles, they also pointed to two other companies, Findett Service Company and Cadmus Corporation, as sources of contamination, both of which are listed on an EPA 'Superfund Site' cleanup project.

In a statement, Ameren Missouri’s Director of Environmental Services Craig Giesmann said the company took "aggressive actions to help protect well water in the City of St. Charles" more than a decade ago. 

"Following this work, the United States Environmental Protection Agency determined Ameren's proactive efforts protected the local water supply," the statement said.

Giesmann said they’ve already taken action to clean up around Huster Substation and the practices to clean equipment, which caused some contamination, are no longer in use.

"We have newer equipment and we're constantly trying to put in newer equipment at a lot of our sites Huster Substation included," Giesmann said.

The mayor said the city has already shut down four of its seven wells due to this contamination. He insisted the current contamination is still coming from Ameren.

“Ameren’s transformer substation is located within the Elmpoint Wellfield and Ameren has dumped chemicals that are contaminating portions of the city’s water supply,” Borgmeyer said.

With the shutdown of the wells, he said St. Charles has already been purchasing more water than normal from the City of St. Louis to supplement the wells' production. After shutting down more wells, St. Charles would need to purchase even more water, the cost of which would be passed on to water customers in the city. 

He said St. Charles has already purchased $2 million of additional water from St. Louis City over the past five-plus years, which he said is a great cost to everyone involved.

“We are also concerned the contamination is progressing toward even more of our wells. Shutting down these walls provides a temporary solution to the problem. However, a long-term solution is absolutely necessary,” Borgmeyer said.

Borgmeyer said he’s been asking for help from the parties responsible but has not gotten much.

“The city has been seeking oversight and enforcement and remedy of the situation from the EPA region seven MDNR, and Ameren, as I mentioned before, to no success,” he said in a press conference.

Giesmann said Ameren is continually working with the EPA, the City of St. Charles and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources.

"So we don't know, with this most recent chemical concern that came up, where it came from," Giesmann said, "and that's why we support working with EPA and Missouri Department of Natural Resources to identify where it came from and then more importantly what we are going to do with it.”

The mayor said the EPA has filed a consent agreement with a deadline for public comment. This would outline Ameren’s legal response in this contamination. He said he’s asking the EPA to extend this deadline and to hold at least two public meetings to provide the people of St. Charles with more information.

“The city has been asking for action that includes an immediate construction of a new treatment system within our existing plant to remove harmful chemicals from the groundwater. And then, relocation of the cities drinking water wells to an area free from the threat of further contamination,” he said.

Giesmann said Ameren cares about safe drinking water and the environment.

"We live and work in these communities, all of our employees are in the area. And at the end of the day, it's important that we do the right thing, while at the same time working with our community leaders to make sure that we have safe water," Giesmann said.

The full statement from Giesmann is as follows:

“Almost a decade ago, Ameren Missouri initiated aggressive actions to help protect well water in the City of St. Charles, following a detailed investigation to determine whether our Huster Substation could be a potential source for contamination. Following this work, the United States Environmental Protection Agency determined Ameren's proactive efforts protected the local water supply.

About one mile from our substation is a "Superfund" cleanup site. Ameren Missouri has no association with this site.

As a good steward of the environment, Ameren Missouri strongly supports additional groundwater testing and further study of a sewer line that runs through the area. We also support the EPAs consent decree in this case, which describes the actions taken to date as well as the site remedy selected by the EPA following a robust public process. We also support extending the public comment period and look forward to continuing to work closely with federal, state and local officials."

The City of St. Charles encourages you to contact the USEPA and Missouri DNR regarding actions during the public comment period, which is set to close on Nov. 3. 

You can also send comments regarding the Consent Decree by email to pubcomment-ees.enrd@usdoj.gov.

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