The Environmental Protection Agency has extended its deadline to propose a plan to clean up the West Lake Landfill Superfund site.
Federal officials had aimed to decide whether to partially or fully remove the World War II-era nuclear waste at the landfill by the end of December, but they decided to postpone the decision. Recently, there were allegations that radioactive contamination from the West Lake Landfill was found on residential property.
The radioactive waste sits approximately 600 feet from an underground smoldering fire contained by the Bridgeton Landfill. At a press conference Tuesday, EPA Region 7 Administrator Mark Hague said the agency needs more time to make a decision, though he could not say how long the deadline will be extended.
"We need to ensure we get good sound science and engineering information to make a decision," Hague said. "We need to get this right and we will get it right."
Hague added that the site's responsible parties have delayed in giving the federal agency necessary data to help determine a remedy.
“Science is good. It should be the guide," said Russ Knocke, spokesperson for landfill owner Republic Services. "The community has waited eight years for more testing. We can wait a few more months for science.”
Area activist and Maryland Heights resident Dawn Chapman wasn't surprised that the EPA announced an extension to their deadline, but wishes that the agency admitted earlier that they needed more time.
"It's disappointing to see a decision looming and it feels like it keeps getting pushed further and further back, that finish line," Chapman said. "But I think that people need to understand that this is really a process and this site is complicated."
Last week, Michael and Robbin Dailey, filed a lawsuit against landfill owner Republic Services and other companies associated with the Manhattan Project waste. The couple had the inside and outside of their property tested for radioactive contamination. In the lawsuit, they claim that there are high levels of radioactive lead, radon and dust containing Thorium-230.
"People like the Dailey's being actively involved is the reason the EPA is testing homes around the landfill and asking for FUSRAP experts to provide consultation on their now delayed decision," said Ed Smith, Policy Director with the Missouri Coalition for the Environment. "The EPA needs to be prepared to relocate families if they confirm residential radioactive contamination while preparing a plan for the removal of the illegally discarded radioactive wastes to ensure the long-term safety of the community and St. Louis region."
In a letter written to the Daileys' lawyers last week, the EPA said it would conduct tests on the couple's property. The Daileys are seeking compensation for damages to their property and hope to move out of the St. Louis area entirely.
“It is reprehensible that the EPA has continued to drag their feet and not take responsibility for cleanup at the West Lake Landfill," U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner said. "Today's announcement only reinforces why it is critical we transfer cleanup of the site from the EPA to the Army Corps. Washington bureaucrats are out of touch and have failed our community. I talk to the families affected by West Lake regularly about their safety and well-being, which is exactly why I will continue to fight for a safe and responsible resolution."
Hague also mentioned in Tuesday's press conference that the Army Corps' Formerly Utilized Sites Remedial Action Program, which had cleaned up multiple sites in the St. Louis area, will assist the EPA in determining a remedy for the West Lake Landfill site.
“It is extremely disappointing and hard to believe that there is yet another delay in EPA’s cleanup of the West Lake Landfill," said St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger. "EPA has had jurisdiction over the site in Bridgeton for more than 25 years and during that time area residents have continued to live with the fears of radioactive contamination. It is time for a permanent solution that will remove these fears and improve the lives of families who have been dealing with this for far too long." Follow Eli Chen on Twitter: @StoriesByEli