St. Louis Post-Dispatch
by Editorial Board
Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Ballwin, pounded a witness table in frustration Wednesday over yet another obstacle to getting a federal cleanup of the nuclear waste at West Lake Landfill in Bridgeton. And she’s right. This is a table-pounding moment.
Wagner is upset because the Army Corps of Engineers and a key U.S. House energy panel oppose a proposal to shift oversight of the landfill from the Environmental Protection Agency to a special corps’ nuclear cleanup program.
She’s understandably distressed at the unwillingness of regulatory agencies to take responsibility for protecting residents from the potential harm and health hazards of toxic waste that has been buried at the site since 1973.
The dump has been a Superfund site on the EPA’s national priority list since 1990, but the agency never put forth a plan to remove the waste. It suggested capping the site and leaving the waste there in 2008, but that plan met resistance from environmentalists, area residents and some scientists who contend the waste is too dangerous.
The result is that the community around the landfill has lost confidence in the EPA. And, Wagner said, so has she.
She accused the agency of “years of dereliction and inaction,” and said it has “failed the people in the most heartless manner possible.” Wagner testified at the committee hearing alongside Rep. William Lacy Clay, D-St. Louis, co-sponsor of legislation to transfer jurisdiction of the site.
Given that vote of no confidence, the Army Corps of Engineers, under its Formerly Utilized Sites Remedial Action Program, or FUSRAP, is the only alternative for a satisfactory remedy. It was created specifically to handle radioactively contaminated sites.
West Lake became a landfill in the 1950s. In 1973, an unlined, 200-acre hole at the landfill became the dump site for toxic wastes, byproducts of Mallinckrodt Chemical Works’ uranium enrichment program for the Manhattan Project and subsequent nuclear weapons production.
The EPA has resisted transferring oversight to the corps despite bipartisan efforts by Missouri’s congressional delegation. The corps is believed to be best suited for the responsibility, having remediated other north St. Louis County sites and now actively cleaning up low-level radioactive contamination along Coldwater Creek.
Congress funds FUSRAP, whose budget has been about $100 million and is divided among 24 sites.
Karen Baker, chief of the Department of the Army’s environmental division, said at the hearing that transferring oversight to the corps would likely cause further delay in cleaning up the site and “saddle the general taxpayer” with the associated costs.
FUSRAP exists exactly for this type of cleanup. Congress needs to appropriate more money if needed to enable the Army corps to tackle the challenge. The parties responsible for the contamination also must be held accountable to help pay for remediation.
Keep pounding tables. People in the area have suffered long enough.