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Commentary: Open letter to Sen. McCaskill: Tell EPA to move radioactive waste at West Lake landfill

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Feb. 6, 2009 - An open letter to Sen. Claire McCaskill:

I recently learned that you support the decision of the outgoing regional administrator of EPA Region 7 to leave long-lived, highly radioactive waste in the Missouri River floodplain, at West Lake landfill in north St. Louis County. As you know, last year, the EPA decided to leave more than 250,000 yards of contaminated waste, some of which dates back to the dawn of the nuclear age, on site -- covered by a multilayered cover -- instead of moving it.

Leaving this radioactive waste in place is potentially dangerous. For one thing, the landfill is in the Missouri Rver flood plain. What happens if there is a flood? The risk is far too high that the contamination could leak out into the surrounding area. In addition, the wastes are upstream from drinking water intakes of north St. Louis County, the city of St. Louis, Jefferson County, and other areas farther downstream on the Mississippi River -- and upwind from the entire St. Louis region. Do we dare threaten our drinking water and the air we breathe?

I am writing to ask, most respectfully, if I could please meet with you, along with at least one of our three St. Louis area flood-expert geologists, soon -- before heavy truckloads begin to start driving back and forth on top of the West Lake radioactive wastes, dumping rocks, construction rubble, and clay there.

There are still unresolved issues: For example, experts do not agree on how radioactively contaminated the West Lake groundwater already is, or the velocity of its lateral movement into the Missouri River channel.

All the dozens of other St. Louis sites contaminated with Mallinckrodt nuclear weapons production materials (from 1942-1967) have been or are being excavated and removed from our area, except at Weldon Spring in St. Charles County, where the wastes were placed in a 45-acre, seven-story-high disposal cell, with an "engineered" bottom, sides and top.

That is, all the St. Louis radioactive waste site being remediated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, except the hot, Belgian Congo uranium (and thorium, radium, polonium, actinium, etc.) wastes that were illegally dumped in 1973 at West Lake. West Lake is undeniably the geologically and hydrologically most transient and dangerous site of all --- in the floodplain of one of the most powerful, flood-prone rivers in the world.

I recognize how difficult it would be for you to change your position on this threat to mid-America, but I also know how essential this is.

Please remember how Hannes Alfven, a 1970 Nobel Laureate in Physics, described what he called the ecological imperative: "Thou shalt not leave a polluted and poisoned world to future generations."


Kay Drey

Kay Drey is a longtime environmentalist in University City.

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