Editorial: Stop squabbling and clean up the West Lake Landfill, 04/06/2016

St. Louis Post-Dispatch
by the Editorial Board

West Lake Landfill group holds DC Press Conference
In this Feb. 9, 2016 photo, JUST MOMS co-creator Karen Nickel criticizes what she says was inaction of EPA administrator Gina McCarthy, pictured over her left shoulder, in the West Lake/Bridgeton landfill fire and nuclear waste controversy. The group joined with activists from the Flint, Mich., water crisis, for a press conference at the National Press Club. Chuck Raasch, of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Residents near the West Lake and Bridgeton landfills are finally getting responses from the Environmental Protection Agency to their concerns about living next to a radioactive dumpsite precariously exposed to an advancing underground fire.

After leadfooting it for years, the EPA has mustered the political will to engage a public crying for answers. Unsurprisingly, the new openness occurs as Missouri’s congressional leaders are seeking to transfer oversight for West Lake from the EPA to the Army Corps of Engineers. Amazing how a little pressure helps move stubborn bureaucrats off the dime.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy met last week with representatives of a local activist group, JustMomsSTL, and said the agency would consider relocating residents. The group was rebuffed in previous efforts to meet with McCarthy and other top officials.

Residents did not create the disaster and are asking logical questions: Is anyone going to make sure the danger does not exist, or pay to move us away from it?

They should not expect remedies anytime soon but should feel encouraged that they have the EPA administrator’s attention. For the first time in its 27-year management of West Lake, the agency is at least entertaining the question of relocation and forging ahead toward a permanent remedy.

These are signs of progress. EPA administrators still maintain there is no imminent health threat and that monitoring data show no need to relocate residents temporarily or permanently.

Residents have pinned their hopes on a cleanup under the corps’Formerly Utilized Sites Remedial Action Program. Every other nuclear waste-contaminated site in St. Louis County and the location where the West Lake waste came from are covered under the program.

It appears the corps is better trained and equipped to deal with this challenge. The question is where the money would come from.

The site should be cleaned now. Worry later about who pays the bill. West Lake’s radioactive waste was generated in the early days of thenuclear weapons program. The nation must take responsibility for remediating the problem.

EPA Regional Director Mark Hague said Monday that the agency is on course to propose a final remedy and have a design approved by the end of the year to erect a barrier between the radioactive waste and the fire.

Adding to the pressure is Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster’s lawsuit against landfill owner Republic Services, which has responsibility to address the burning Bridgeton Landfill. Koster has been a harsh critic of the EPA’s pace at West Lake.

People who live and work around the landfills have every right to demand answers and know they are safe. They aren’t confident they’re getting honest answers from agencies that work closely with the corporations they oversee.

They deserve better. It’s time to stop squabbling and clean up the site.

http://www.stltoday.com/news/opinion/columns/the-platform/editorial-stop-squabbling-and-clean-up-the-west-lake-landfill/article_7ec63329-4273-5aea-a5ea-8e1398c78266.html

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