Major win for West Lake families: transfer from EPA to Army Corps of Engineers, 02/03/2016

Examiner.com
by Byron DeLear

Many may not realize, but the original name for the Manhattan Project—the secret government initiative during World War II to make to the first atomic weapons—was the “Manhattan Engineering District.” The Army Corps of Engineers have been at the front of the American nuclear-narrative since the beginning, and so has St. Louis. Yesterday, the United States Senate began to reverse an injustice that has been foisted upon north St. Louis County for 43 years by directing the Army Corps of Engineers to take the lead in cleaning-up a huge cache of orphaned, radiotoxic Manhattan Project-nuclear waste lying out in the open at the West Lake Landfill.

Karen Nickel of Just Moms STL. The U.S. Senate passed a bill to direct the Army Corps of Engineers to clean-up the West Lake Landfill in Bridgeton, Missouri. The site contains thousands of tons of radwaste generated by the U.S. nuclear weapons program.
Photo: Center for Health, Environment and Justice

Independent studies and investigations, including experts brought by Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster, have shown radioactive substances have been leaching offsite, contaminating the area, and most likely poisoning local residents. Cancer clusters have presented in the area including a 300% increase in childhood brain cancer in the surrounding zip code.

The EPA, which had folded the site into its Superfund program in 1990, has done virtually nothing for decades to clean it up; and in many instances, has been shown to minimize and misdirect efforts to call attention to the ongoing health hazard. Like poisoned citizens from Flint, Michigan, the community many years ago lost faith in the agency’s handling of the situation and began calling for transfer to the Army Corps of Engineers ‘FUSRAP’ program, which has the capacity to execute removal of the threatening material; or at the very least, permanent “entombment,” like what had occurred at the Weldon Spring Ordnance Works in St. Charles County, Missouri.

“This plan isn’t a silver bullet, and will take far longer than we’d like to resolve these issues—but it’s a concrete, positive step forward. Now it’s up to the U.S. House to take up this issue so that we can get the legislation across the finish line.”—Sen. Claire McCaskill (MO).

Last November, in a stunning exemplar of bipartisan collaboration, Sens. Roy Blunt and Claire McCaskill were joined by Reps. Lacy Clay and Ann Wagner in sponsoring a bill to direct the Army Corps of Engineers to become the lead agency at West Lake. Yesterday, it passed the U.S. Senate.

“With the passage of this legislation today the Senate has demonstrated that the voices of the community around West Lake Landfill are being heard,” stated Sen. Claire McCaskill (MO). “This plan isn’t a silver bullet, and will take far longer than we’d like to resolve these issues—but it’s a concrete, positive step forward. Now it’s up to the U.S. House to take up this issue so that we can get the legislation across the finish line.”

“This is truly a testament to community action and unity, and the ability for everyday mothers and concerned citizens to really make a difference. We should all be grateful to be living in a nation where democratic action can actually translate into something real and tangible.”—Dawn Chapman, Just Moms STL

“The passage of this bill represents the first step toward the healing that this community desperately needs,” commented Dawn Chapman, one of the leaders of the community action group Just Moms STL. “We have so many people to thank, including Sens. Roy Blunt and Claire McCaskill, for listening to the families that have been impacted by this looming nuclear disaster hanging over our heads—but we want to specifically recognize every single person that has pressed into this issue, made calls, attended meetings, and worked tirelessly to expand awareness of our plight—this is truly a testament to community action and unity, and the ability for everyday mothers and concerned citizens to really make a difference. We should all be grateful to be living in a nation where democratic action can actually translate into something real and tangible.”

The companion legislation in the House, H.R. 4100, will need to pass before the President signs the transfer into law. Further, the bill passed today would not alter the current liability of “potentially responsible parties” at the site nor its designation as a Superfund site.

However, recently it has been revealed that the Federal Government may have more liability with regard to the original erroneous licensing and handling of the more than 100,000 tons of nuclear byproduct material generated by Mallinckrodt Chemical Works during its role as contractor for the Manhattan Engineering District and Atomic Energy Commission. Specifically, the Atomic Energy Commission may have violated the law with the original licensing structure of this waste and it also failed to act in recalling the nuclear byproduct material once it had been mishandled. It’s important to note that these potential violations of law on behalf of the Federal Government preceded the existence of the EPA, Superfund, Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and any involvement by Republic Services, the current owner of the landfill.

It remains indisputable that the radioactive contamination of the region was caused by the pivotal role St. Louis played in the national security equation of the United States, and as such, it’s time for a grateful nation to offer rightful compensation. There are many in the community, including the inimitable Kay Drey, that feel the United States Government bears the sole responsibility for the site’s remediation and clean-up.

“We have sacrificed so much and we still have work to do, but for now we will take this victory”—Karen Nickel, Just Moms STL

In the meantime, the community is breathing a sigh of relief and elated at the outcome of reaching the first step in its goals to protect the future of the entire St. Louis region. They should be congratulated and thanked.

“This is a tremendous response to what this community needs and I congratulate our Senators for their work,” said State Representative Bill Otto, whose district includes the radioactive site. “Now, we must press-on and ensure this gets through the [U.S.] House.”

“We have sacrificed so much and we still have work to do, but for now we will take this victory,” said Karen Nickel, a lead organizer with Just Moms STL. “We ARE doing this and I hope that this sends a very clear message that we really will go to the ends of the Earth to protect our children!”

Dr. Helen Caldicott, an internationally recognized medical expert on the health impacts of radiation, will be travelling to St. Louis to conduct a symposium called “The Atoms Next Door,” to be held on Saturday, February 20, 2016 at 6pm at the St. Louis Community College-Wildwood campus. Caldicott will be speaking on the issue of the West Lake Landfill and Coldwater Creek and will be joined by Denise Brock (ombudsman for NIOSH), St. Louis County Councilmen Dr. Sam Page and Mark Harder, nuclear policy expert Bob Alvarez, and other policy experts.

http://www.examiner.com/article/major-win-for-west-lake-families-transfer-from-epa-to-army-corps-of-engineers

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.