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EPA West Lake Landfill Superfund Site Press Release and Corrected Proposal
February 6, 2018

Summary

EPA Secretary Pruitt announced a proposed remedy for the West Lake Landfill in North Saint Louis County calling the site a top priority for the EPA. The project, named “Excavation Plus,” will remove most of the radioactive material that poses a public health threat and place a permanent cap and engineered cover system for long-term health and safety. “Excavation Plus” will take 5 years to complete and includes digging to a depth of 16 feet to remove the waste. This decision came after much public criticism of the EPA and local agencies on their apparent unwillingness to find a solution to a problem that has only become more alarming over time. Westlake was established as a solid waste landfill in the early 1970s before standards or permits were required for such entities. In 1973, Westlake became radiologically contaminated when uranium processing waste was dumped on site, but it was not declared a Superfund site until 1990 when radioactive materials were confirmed on both the surface of the landfill and areas below (7 to 12 feet or deeper). Even then it was deemed as only requiring “further monitoring.” In 2008, the EPA placed a cap on the landfill hoping to stave off the spread of the contamination and prevent fumes in the surrounding area. In December of 2010, officials discovered a smoldering underground fire about 1,000 feet from the nuclear waste site, and emergency plans were created in the event that this fire reached the radioactive waste. Residents were confused and alarmed by this news, as well as the accompanying increase in fumes and odors from the landfill. “Excavation Plus” is a long-awaited excavation to remedy public health threats and prevent further damage.

Analysis

The Westlake Landfill has long been a complicated site, but the introduction of the fire put a timetable on disaster. However, it is not as simple as removing waste or putting out a fire. Removing the waste is a costly and time-consuming process that may release a higher level of toxins into the air and groundwater, posing risks to workers and residents. In March of 2013, over two years after the discovery of the fire, the “area of high subsurface temperatures” was measured at a depth of up to 150 feet and over an area of hundreds of yards, inching closer to the radioactive waste location. This was the tipping point for many locals. Residents of the surrounding areas rallied together to support each other and protest inaction from the government on multiple levels. A fire break was built in response to a lawsuit filed in 2013. There was a push for a more long-term solution. Now 600 feet from the fire, the current plan will remove 70% of the waste at a depth of 16 feet. Residents are concerned that partial removal will not be enough, and the public comment period has been extended to address concerns.

Engagement Resources

This brief was compiled by Megan Toney. If you have comments or want to add the name of your organization to this brief please contact megan@usresistnews.org.


 

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