ST. LOUIS – Environmentalists say there’s an attack right now on the protections from toxic coal ash pits. Four of them are located in the St. Louis area. All are near our water sources and they contain everything from mercury to arsenic.

“Right now, these sites are already leaking contaminants into the groundwater,” Washington University environmental engineer Peter Goode said.

Goode warned that our own regulators are considering backing off.

“Nobody is going to know if that contamination happens to leak off-site,” Goode said. That could be a possible consequence if regulators follow through with their proposal.

The Sierra Club points to a recent solid waste stakeholder meeting in which a representative from Missouri’s Department of Natural Resources announced possibly reducing regulations with a “lighter” permit.

DNR’s Chris Nagel brought it up during a recent Solid Waste Forum.

Just after the 59-minute mark, you can hear Nagel say, “It’s kind of an overarching requirement to take care of the site without getting into the nitty-gritty of a site-specific permit. It’s kind of like ‘permit lite.’”

“It was really disappointing that the people that are in charge of protecting our health and our natural resources seem to be intentionally weakening regulations that protect the public,” Goode said.

Ameren Missouri recently invited us to do an interview on top of a coal ash pit. Senior manager of environmental services Craig Giesmann showed us at the time what Ameren is doing to protect the public and environment.

Ameren added in a statement today:

For years, we have demonstrated and provided expert scientific analysis to show there is no risk to the public from these basins. To address localized groundwater issues, we developed a plan that best protects the environment, surrounding communities and our customers. As we get closer to the end of safely closing the basins, we’re utilizing industry-leading technology to remove up to 99% of trace metals from groundwater. This proactive step goes beyond what is required. Long after the work is complete, we plan to continue our extensive monitoring and reporting of groundwater information.

My Ameren Missouri co-workers and I live in these communities, too. We’re invested in being good environmental stewards, and it’s important for us to get this right.

Craig Giesmann, Senior manager of environmental services for Ameren Missouri

The Department of Natural Resources holds a public hearing on the permit issue Tuesday night. However, the DNR did not respond to our requests for comment.

Ameren also maintains a website that provides information about the basins.