West Lake landfill | St. Louis Public Radio

West Lake landfill

The Environmental Protection Agency has finalized its plan to remove radioactive waste from the West Lake Landfill Superfund site.

The $205 million plan intends to remove about 70 percent of the site’s radioactivity and dispose of the waste at an out-of-state facility. The EPA will spend the next year and a half determining how to clean up the site and how to keep workers and the area residents safe during excavation.

The West Lake Landfill, in the distance, sits adjacent to the Bridgeton Landfill, right.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated at 12:10 p.m. Sept. 28 — The Environmental Protection Agency has finalized its plan to remove radioactive waste from the West Lake Landfill Superfund site.

The chosen solution will remove about 70 percent of the site’s radioactivity and dispose of the waste at an out-of-state facility. The $205 million plan is similar, though less expensive, to what officials proposed in February.

The West Lake Landfill in Bridgeton, seen from St. Charles Rock Road.
File Photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

On Thursday, the Environmental Protection Agency approved plans to clean up radioactive waste at the West Lake Landfill Superfund site.

The agency plans to remove about 70 percent of the site’s radioactivity and dispose of the waste at an off-site facility. The entire process is estimated to cost $205 million and take about four and a half years to complete.

Albert Kelly, former head of the EPA's Superfund Task Force, and EPA Region 7 administrator Cathy Stepp attend a town hall in Bridgeton about the West Lake Landfill Superfund site in October 2017
File photo | St. Louis Public Radio

The head of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund Task Force resigned Tuesday after one year in the role, leaving residents in northwest St. Louis County unsure about the fate of a proposal to clean up West Lake Landfill.

Albert Kelly, former EPA senior advisor, did not immediately return a call for comment. Media reports say the ex-banking executive resigned after relentless bad press about his financial dealings. Before he joined the EPA, Kelly helped administrator Scott Pruitt get financing to pay for a mortgage and to buy a minor league baseball team. Later, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. banned Kelly from the industry because of a previous banking violation.

The West Lake Landfill, seen from St. Charles Rock Road in Bridgeton.
File Photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated March 5 with new public comments deadline  The Environmental Protection Agency has released the full details of its proposal to remove radioactive waste from the West Lake Landfill. The agency will make a final decision after a public comment period.

The West Lake Landfill, in the distance, sits adjacent to the Bridgeton Landfill.
File Photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated on March 5 to note new deadline for public comments  — The Environmental Protection Agency has released its plan for cleaning up radioactive waste at West Lake Landfill.

But officials say they still want to hear from community members on all the proposed remedies, not just the one the agency selected.

The EPA asked for feedback on three elements of its plan: Does the EPA’s proposed excavation plan address public concerns regarding the thoroughness of the removal? How should excavation differ between waste areas? And, where should the radioactive material go after it’s removed? Access all the plan’s documents on the EPA’s website.

Residents who live near West Lake Landfill gathered at John Calvin Presbyterian Church in Bridgeton after the EPA announced its remediation plan. (Feb 1, 2018)
Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

When the Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday announced its plan to remove much of the radioactive waste from the West Lake Landfill, some activists and residents celebrated.

But many residents expressed frustration and disappointment that only some of the waste would be removed before the site is covered. They said they’re still concerned about groundwater contamination, which might not be prevented by a partial removal, and worried that they might not be able to move away if the government doesn’t come up with a buyout plan. Some still don’t trust that the EPA can deliver on its promises.

The West Lake Landfill, in the distance, sits adjacent to the Bridgeton Landfill.
File Photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

On Friday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Don Marsh went Behind the Headlines to discuss the aftermath of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) decision on a partial removal of World War II-era radioactive waste at the West Lake Landfill, in northwest St. Louis County.

The West Lake Landfill, in the distance, sits adjacent to the Bridgeton Landfill, right.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

The Environmental Protection Agency proposal to partially remove nuclear weapons waste from a northwest St. Louis County landfill marks a major shift in approach to a problem that’s plagued residents for decades.

Since 1990, federal officials have either passed the buck on remediating West Lake Landfill or proposed building a cap over the site, which does little to prevent the tons of radioactive waste from contaminating groundwater.

On Thursday, EPA head Scott Pruitt announced his “Excavation Plus” proposal to remove much of the waste, which is about 600 feet from an underground fire in the adjacent Bridgeton Landfill, and permanently cover the rest.

Here's a guide to our coverage.

The West Lake Landfill in Bridgeton, seen from St. Charles Rock Road.
File Photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated at 3 p.m. to clarify how much waste would be removed and with additional reaction  — The Environmental Protection Agency has decided on a partial removal of World War II-era radioactive waste at the West Lake Landfill, in northwest St. Louis County.

The EPA proposed a remedy that would remove “the majority of the radioactive material” and construct a cover system to “best protect the community of Bridgeton over the long term,” the agency said today in a news release.

Flares at the Bridgeton Landfill are used to burn off smelly underground gases.
File Photo | Véronique LaCapra | St. Louis Public Radio

The Environmental Protection Agency is expected to soon announce its plans to clean up the waste in West Lake Landfill. For people who live near the landfill in north St. Louis County, the decision couldn’t come soon enough, as the waste sits approximately 600 feet from an underground smoldering fire.

The landfill has been on the EPA’s National Priorities List since 1990. Eighteen years later, the EPA under the administration of President George W. Bush recommended capping the landfill. The waste has sat at the site since its former owner, Cotter Corporation, dumped it there in 1973.

EPA officials may decide to remove the waste entirely, remove it in part, or cap the site.

This radiation warning sign is one of many posted on the chain link fence surrounding part of the West Lake Landfill in Bridgeton, Mo.
File photo | Sarah Skiold-Hanlin | St. Louis Public Radio

The Environmental Protection Agency plans to conduct further testing for radioactive contamination at the West Lake Landfill Superfund site in Bridgeton. 

Albert Kelly, senior adviser to EPA administrator Scott Pruitt and the head of the agency's Superfund Task Force, made the announcement at a forum late Thursday, where members of the community voiced concerns about the landfill. Kelly said he expects the sampling to occur within the next 90 days in the western part of the site, a portion that agency officials often refer to as "Operating Unit 2."

The announcement came as good news to area residents, who have long worried that that contamination has damaged their health.

Gas extraction wells on the Bridgeton Landfill in summer 2016.
File Photo |Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

Residents and environmental activists expressed concerns at a public hearing Wednesday night that the state's pending stormwater permit for the Bridgeton Landfill does not require monitoring for radioactive waste. 

The Bridgeton Landfill sits above an underground smoldering fire, located about 600 feet from the World War II-era radioactive waste that's under the West Lake Landfill Superfund site. Concerns about radioactive contamination in stormwater rose over the summer, when the Missouri Department of Natural Resources released a report showing levels of alpha particles in runoff at Bridgeton Landfill that exceeded drinking water standards after heavy rains in late April. Alpha particles are a type of radiation that does not pierce the skin and must be ingested to damage human health.

Rebecca Cammisa, the director of "Atomic Homefront."
Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio

"Atomic Homefront" director Rebecca Cammisa grew up in New York and had long been familiar with environmental remediation efforts there before she first came to St. Louis to shoot a film about the legacy of nuclear waste here.

Her documentary, which was acquired by HBO, and will be screened tonight at the St. Louis Filmmakers Showcase, charts the history of atomic waste in St. Louis associated with the Manhattan Project and the citizen activist movement here to have it dealt with.

This radiation warning sign is one of many posted on the chain link fence surrounding part of the West Lake Landfill in Bridgeton, Mo.
File photo | Sarah Skiold-Hanlin | St. Louis Public Radio

The Environmental Protection Agency has found no evidence of radioactive waste from the Manhattan Project in two Bridgeton homes close to the West Lake Landfill Superfund site. 

Federal officials began testing homes in late 2016 in response to a lawsuit filed in November by a married couple in the Spanish Village subdivision against landfill owner Republic Services and 10 other companies.

The welcome sign for the Spanish Village neighborhood in Bridgeton May 2017
Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

Residents of a Bridgeton neighborhood were denied the chance to move away from the West Lake Landfill Superfund site after Missouri lawmakers last week rejected a bill that would have paid for a state agency to buy their homes.

The measure, sponsored by Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-University City, would have allowed 91 families in Spanish Village, the closest neighborhood to the landfill, to sell their properties to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. The Senate overwhelmingly passed the bill last month, but when the bill moved to a conference committee, lawmakers cut funding for the bill from $12.5 million to $1 million. The measure failed in the House, 79-65. 

House Democrats, including Rep. Bruce Franks Jr., raise their hands to speak about the $10-an-hour minimum wage in St. Louis.
File | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Forty-five bills to Gov. Eric Greitens later, the Missouri General Assembly adjourned Friday having dealt with some high-priority items like right to work, banning cities from raising their minimum wage, complying with a federal ID mandate and making it harder to sue for workplace discrimination.

But other sought-after bills fell by the wayside, including one that would have allowed Missouri to shed its status as the last state in the U.S. without a prescription drug monitoring program and another getting rid of lobbyist gifts to officeholders — something Greitens campaigned on.

A cautionary sign at a fence around the West Lake Landfill Superfund site, which contains World War II-era nuclear waste.
File photo | Véronique LaCapra | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated at 6 p.m. with details from a report — As Missouri lawmakers stress that time is running out to provide state assistance for moving residents away from the West Lake Landfill, environmental lawyers claim that the Superfund site has contaminated more homes in Bridgeton. 

A cautionary sign at a fence around the West Lake Landfill Superfund site, which contains World War II-era nuclear waste.
File photo | Véronique LaCapra | St. Louis Public Radio

A bill to create a buyout program for homes near the West Lake Landfill Superfund site in Bridgeton has been overwhelmingly approved by the state Senate. 

Under the proposal, residents of the Spanish Village subdivision near the site could apply to sell their homes to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. As many as 91 families could have the option to move away from the World War II-era radioactive contamination at the West Lake Landfill, which sits about 600 feet from the underground smoldering fire at the Bridgeton Landfill. Many residents have expressed concern about the potential health risks of living there.

Chronic stress and the West Lake Landfill

Mar 6, 2017
This radiation warning sign is one of many posted on the chain link fence surrounding part of the West Lake Landfill in Bridgeton, Mo.
File photo | Sarah Skiold-Hanlin | St. Louis Public Radio

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On Monday’s St. Louis on the Air, we spoke with St. Louis Public Radio reporter Eli Chen about her story detailing environmental chronic stress related to the ongoing situation at Westlake Landfill.

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