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Health, Science, Environment

Study Of Groundwater Toxins Planned For West Lake Landfill

The West Lake Landfill in Bridgeton, seen from St. Charles Rock Road.
File Photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
The companies responsible for cleaning up the West Lake Landfill Superfund site are working on a plan to study groundwater contamination. Samples from groundwater wells have shown levels of radium that have exceeded federal drinking-water standards.

Bridgeton Landfill LLC and other companies responsible for cleaning up the West Lake Landfill are developing a plan to study radioactive contamination in groundwater at the site.

Federal officials and community members became concerned about groundwater contamination especially after the U.S. Geological Survey released a report in 2014 that found high levels of radium in samples taken from wells at the landfill. But at the time, scientists could not conclude that it was caused by the radioactive waste at the site.

Republic Services subsidiaries Bridgeton Landfill and Rock Road Industries, the Cotter Corporation, and the U.S. Department of Energy have until June 6 to submit a plan to the Environmental Protection Agency for how they will study the groundwater.

The federal agency wants to address detections of radioactive materials and benzene, a cancer-causing substance, said Justin Barker, remedial project manager at EPA Region 7.

“We want to make sure the groundwater is safe,” Barker said.

After EPA approves the groundwater-study plan, Barker expects that the responsible companies will spend about two years taking samples from wells on and off site. It’s enough time to document potential seasonal changes, he said.

The groundwater portion of the side will require a separate cleanup plan than the remediation of World War II-era radioactive waste that’s taking place at the West Lake Landfill. The federal agency last September decided to remove 70 percent of the radioactivity at the site.

Environmental advocates have long argued that the groundwater should have been considered as a part of the cleanup plan for the landfill.

“This stuff is in a highly vulnerable environment, and it’s invisible and odorless and has the potential to create risks to human health thousands of years into the future,” said Ed Smith, policy director at the Missouri Coalition for the Environment. “We need to be custodians of our environment and prevent that from happening.”

Activists have also said that considering the groundwater separately seems inefficient and hope that the contamination there would be addressed during excavation of radioactive waste at the landfill.

“This plan, whatever it ends up being, I would like to see it overlap the cleanup of West Lake [Landfill],” said Dawn Chapman, a local resident and founder of the Just Moms STL advocacy group.

Bridgeton Landfill and the Cotter Corporation support further study of groundwater contamination at the site, according to statements from the companies.

Follow Eli Chen on Twitter: @StoriesByEli

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