New study shows vast offsite radioactive contamination from West Lake Landfill, 12/30/2015

by Byron DeLear

Today, a new peer-reviewed study published in the Journal of Environmental Radioactivity concludes there is “strong evidence” that radioactive substances are in a constant state of offsite migration from the West Lake Landfill. Specifically, numerous soil, dust, and sediment samples were taken from areas surrounding the landfill which show inordinate levels of Lead-210, a decay product of uranium, thorium, and radium.

Storm rainwater runoff at West Lake Landfill in St. Louis County on December 28, 2015. Water was clearly moving through the radioactive areas and into drainage troughs and moving offsite.

Bill Otto

“The stuff we’re talking about at West Lake is hotter than what you would find in a typical uranium mill tailings operation,” stated nuclear policy expert Bob Alvarez in an interview on Tuesday. Alvarez, one of the report’s authors, has written extensively on West Lake including a 2013 report which concluded that “the largest estimated amount of Thorium-230, a long-lived, highly radiotoxic element, is present at West Lake – more than any other U.S. nuclear weapons storage or disposal site.”

Located in north St. Louis County, the West Lake Landfill is made-up of tens of thousands of tons of nuclear weapons-related waste stemming from the top-secret Manhattan Project during World War II. The new report adds to a growing consensus among independent experts that despite biased statements to the contrary radiologically contaminated material at West Lake is leaching offsite, polluting the environment, and most likely poisoning nearby residents.

“Despite biased statements to the contrary, radiologically contaminated material at West Lake is leaching offsite, polluting the environment, and most likely poisoning nearby residents.”

In fact, earlier this week, several videos and stills were posted on theWest Lake Landfill Facebook page showing active streams of storm-runoff water emanating from designated radioactive areas. When examining the West Lake runoff, State Representative Bill Otto asked: “How could anyone make the argument that RIM (Radiologically Impacted Material) is not leaving the site?” In the videos, the runoff is clearly shown to be pooling offsite, flowing into drainage troughs, and ultimately, feeding the Missouri river which is upstream from municipal water intakes.

As reported by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, EPA spokeswoman, Angela Brees, shockingly claimed the rainwater “came from within the Bridgeton Landfill”— a location at least 800 feet away from what was filmed. Sadly, local residents have come to expect this sort of obfuscation from the EPA, if not total misrepresentation with regard to the threat posed by the presence of tens of thousands of tons of uncontained nuclear waste in a densely populated area of St. Louis County.

“To date, a complete inventory of the radiological materials dumped at West Lake has not been fully characterized.”—Journal of Environmental Radioactivity

For example, when queried at a public hearing in October about radioactive material moving into surrounding neighborhoods, EPA regional director Mark Hague said they have “no evidence” that contamination had occurred offsite—which may be technically true—but only because the EPA has neglected to conduct comprehensive offsite testing of soil samples or even perform a thorough and comprehensive grid-like test of the radiological contamination at either the Bridgeton or West Lake landfills.

The Bridgeton Landfill, which lies adjacent to West Lake, has had anunderground fire burning for nearly six years; and if radwaste from West Lake has migrated to Bridgeton, dangerous materials may have already been burned and toxic fumes released into the community. To date, a complete inventory of the radiological materials dumped at West Lake has not been fully characterized. The new independent study released today—“Tracking legacy radionuclides in St. Louis, Missouri, via unsupported 210Pb [Lead-210]”—seeks to fill in some of the empirical gaps left by what many local residents consider to be an agency largely shown to be missing on the job.

The basic theory is as follows. As stated by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and other agency reports, the West Lake Landfill is known to emit radon gas due to the presence of uranium, thorium, radium and other radioactive progeny in the uranium decay series. Radon gas is emanated by the landfill, moves offsite, and then decays into Lead-210, a solid particulate. The authors sought to measure Lead-210 in nearly 300 samples taken around the landfills but also included sampling from other contaminated sites in the region, such as Coldwater Creek, the airport site (SLAPS), Latty Ave (HISS), and even the downtown Mallinckrodt plant location where the uranium was originally processed from 1942 until the late 1950s. To determine whether the Lead-210 from the samples was either naturally occurring or the fingerprint of nuclear waste byproducts, the authors examined the associated concentrations of other members of the uranium decay chain in each sample.

“There is strong evidence that the Lead-210 originated by decay of short-lived, fugitive radon gas that escaped the landfill.”—Tracking legacy radionuclides in St. Louis, Missouri, via unsupported 210Pb by Marco Kaltofen, Robert Alvarez, and Lucas Hixson, Journal of Environmental Radioactivity

Of the 287 samples, 48% were shown to have Lead-210 “concentrations above the risk-based soil cleanup limits for residential farming established by the U.S. Department of Energy at the Fernald, OH, uranium plant, which handled and stored the same concentrated Manhattan Project-era wastes.” Further, as the authors explain, because the Lead-210 found was not in equilibrium with the other members of the decay series, “this is strong evidence that the Lead-210 originated by decay of short-lived, fugitive radon gas that escaped the landfill.” Translation? Dangerous radioactive material has been moving offsite from West Lake for 42 years.

It’s important to recognize that the radon daughters, such as Lead-210, Polonium, Bismuth, etc., are what makes radon exposure the second leading cause of lung cancer. Radon is naturally occurring, but it is indisputable that pouring additional amounts of the stuff into a community poses a real health danger. If the radioactive material can be removed and thereby reduce the threat by many orders of magnitude it must be done—particularly when the entire basis for the original auctioning and mishandling of this material was a violation of law by the Atomic Energy Commission. It is the Federal Government’s responsibility to clean-up West lake and make this community whole again.

“Tracking legacy radionuclides in St. Louis, Missouri…” only adds more credence to the state’s experts brought by Attorney General Chris Koster a few months back that showed evidence of radioactive contamination in offsite tree core samples and groundwater. Authors Marco Kaltofen, Robert Alvarez, and Lucas Hixson conclude their report with a sound recommendation, “Given the importance of radon releases from soils to air as a vector for public exposure to radioactivity, increasing the density and frequency of radon measurements around the West Lake Landfill should be an important priority.”

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Author: stlradwastelegacy

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