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Health, Science, Environment

EPA decides to keep radioactive waste at West Lake landfill

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: May 29, 2008 - The U. S. Environmental Protection Agency has decided to build a "multilayered engineered cover" over a 40-acre section of the West Lake Landfill and then install monitoring wells on the site to protect the public from radioactive waste buried there. Local environmentalists, however, say that leaving radioactive waste in a landfill on a floodplain is not a solution in the public interest.

The decision to cover over the thousands of tons of hazardous waste at the Bridgeton location -- instead of excavating and moving it -- was announced Thursday by John Askew, the EPA's Region 7 administrator in Kansas City.

"We know it (the decision) is not going to be popular with everybody," Askew said by phone. "But we base everything here on science, not on politics." He said that the EPA will monitor the landfill long into the future.

"We never walk away from anything," he said. "We will be there watching this site as long as the EPA and this country are viable."

Askew said the cover would be paid for by the site's owners, with some financial help from the U. S. Department of Energy. Cost is estimated at about $22 million and work could be completed by late fall of 2009.

Environmental groups and others have argued that because the landfill lies in the Missouri river flood plain, there is too high a risk that the contamination will leak out into the surrounding area in the event of a flood. Environmentalist Kay Drey expressed concern in her comments to the EPA that in such an event, the landfill's contaminants could reach the Missouri American Water Co.'s north county plant. 

EPA officials said Thursday they are confident that will not happen.

Askew said removal of the more than 250,000 yards of contaminated material -- enough to fill the Edward Jones Dome's football field to a height of 140 feet -- simply was not practical. In addition, he said, removal could pose "new and hard to control" contamination issues. Drey says that state-of-the-art technologies make safe removal possible.

The low-level radioactive material is a byproduct of the production of nuclear weapons. Officials with the Missouri Coalition for the Environment have maintained that the waste should be moved.

The full EPA "Record of Decision" on the site can be viewed.

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