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Government, Politics & Issues

EPA to oversee work before barrier installed around radioactive material at West Lake landfill

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 22, 2013 - After a two-week delay caused by the federal government’s shutdown, representatives of the Environmental Protection Agency are to be at the Bridgeton/West Lake landfill complex next week to begin a month-long process to determine where to place a special “isolation barrier’’ to protect radioactive waste from an underground fire.

State officials have said that the underground fire, which the landfill owners say actually is underground “smoldering” at part of the Bridgeton site, isn’t close enough to endanger the radioactive material in the neighboring West Lake site – long under federal oversight -- for decades.

However, Republic Services Inc., the parent company of the two firms that own the neighboring Bridgeton and West Lake landfills, announced more than a month ago that it was going ahead and installing the proposed “isolation barrier” as a safeguard.

The project team, which will include the EPA, is to be on site next Tuesday to begin the process to choose the right location for the barrier.  Republic spokesman Richard Callow said the aim is to get as close as possible to the radioactive material, without breaching the material.

The project begins with a Gamma Cone Penetration Test (GCPT), which Republic says “was originally scheduled to begin earlier this month but was delayed by the shutdown of the federal government.“

“The goal of the (test) is to gather data required for the design of the barrier and confirm that the location of the barrier is outside of the area containing radiologically impacted material,” Republic’s release said. “The GCPT technique analyzes subsurface soil but does not generate waste or bring physical materials to the surface.“

The field work, slated to take up to 15 days, will include clearing any unwanted vegetation and building roads “to prevent surface disturbance by the GCPT rig’’ that will conduct the test.

The test itself is slated to take another 12-15 days, meaning that it could be late November or early December before the testing preparation and process is complete. The barrier won't be installed until all the testing is done.

According to Republic, representatives of the EPA and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources will oversee and monitor the testing.

Callow said that the federal shutdown delayed the work by about two weeks. The delay wasn't longer, he said, because everything was in place to begin  before the government shutdown began Oct. 1. It ended Oct. 17.

“This work is not expected to generate any odors,” the firm said, an acknowledgement of the smell that has plagued the Bridgeton landfill – and its residential neighbors – for several years. 

Republic has been overseeing the installation of a cap over the Bridgeton landfill, among other procedures, to get rid of the smell. The state also has sued to force action to alleviate the smell.

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