Nuclear critic urges removal of radioactive waste at West Lake Landfill

News story by the St. Louis Post Dispatch  –

By JEFFREY TOMICH 314-340-8320

BRIDGETON • The West Lake Landfill is, in reality, an unregulated radioactive waste dump that should be cleaned up under the same federal program as similar St. Louis-area sites contaminated with World War II-era uranium processing residues, a nuclear industry critic said in a report.

The 17-page report issued Thursday isn’t based on new data. Instead, it draws from dozens of studies that go back more than half a century.

The report was prepared for the Missouri Coalition for the Environment by Robert Alvarez, a former congressional investigator and adviser to three energy secretaries during the administration of President Bill Clinton. An outspoken critic on nuclear waste issues, Alvarez presented his analysis at a public meeting Thursday night in Bridgeton.

Alvarez joins a chorus of area residents, environmental activists and local officials calling for responsibility for the cleanup at West Lake to be transferred to the Army Corps of Engineers, which is cleaning up similarly contaminated sites across St. Louis.

The calls for action at West Lake have grown louder because of a subsurface fire smoldering deep within the adjacent Bridgeton Landfill.

Alvarez said the EPA, which took over responsibility for the site almost 20 years ago, continued to rely on incomplete information and incorrect assumptions that underplay risks posed by radioactive materials dumped 40 years ago.

“The EPA never questioned what I call ‘the official story’ of what went where, so I started to look at that a little bit more carefully,” he said.

Alvarez said the EPA’s 2008 decision to leave radioactive wastes at West Lake in place beneath a rock, clay and soil cap ignored the fact that the site was in the Missouri River floodplain, in a populated area.

“To assume that none of this stuff will ever migrate is just not supportable,” he said.

The EPA’s 2008 decision is currently being reevaluated with no set timetable for issuing new cleanup plans. An EPA spokesman couldn’t be reached Thursday evening.

Alvarez agrees with the EPA on one point. Transferring responsibility for the cleanup to the Corps of Engineers requires congressional action.

The St. Louis-area congressional delegation has urged the EPA to clean up the site. But none of the officials has called for responsibility to be transferred to the Corps.“This problem needs to be solved as quickly as it can, but it shouldn’t be solved more quickly than we have a real solution,” Sen. Roy Blunt, a Republican, said in an emailed statement. “I understand the frustrations of area residents who feel a sense of urgency to fix this. That’s why I’m pressing for a real, long-term solution.”

Jeffrey Tomich covers energy and the environment for the Post-Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at @jefftomich.

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