A special master has allowed the state to proceed with groundwater testing at wells in the portion of the West Lake Landfill where World War II-era radioactive waste has been detected. The decision Wednesday in a circuit court of St. Louis County comes after landfill owner Republic Services tried to stop the testing from moving forward. The tests were scheduled to begin Aug. 22, but the work was delayed when Republic Services attorney Peter Daniel wrote Assistant Attorney General Thais Folta to inform her the company would not permit the sampling.
Daniel argued that the Missouri Department of Natural Resources has no jurisdiction over the northern portion of the landfill. The Environmental Protection Agency presides over that section of the landfill, labeled as Operating Unit 1, which contains radioactive waste. The state only has jurisdiction over the southern portion, Operating Unit 2, where there is an underground smoldering fire. But the EPA did not object to MDNR's plans to sample groundwater wells in Operating Unit 1. Daniel also said that the sampling is unnecessary, since the EPA and the U.S. Geological Survey conducted a groundwater evaluation in 2013. "There have been no further orders or requests from the U.S. EPA to sample those wells," he wrote. In seeking permission to draw samples, Folta sought help from the special master, William Ray Price Jr., former chief judge of the Missouri Supreme Court. "A delay in testing may compromise the scientific value of the samples, not to mention waste resources already committed for sampling next week," Folta wrote. "And it cannot be overemphasized that this is the only groundwater sampling that is occurring at the Bridgeton or West Lake landfills." Price determined that the state agency should pay for the test, considering the "significant expense" the state is making to test the wells and the "likely usefulness of this additional data."
“Despite Republic’s last-minute attempt to keep the state from sampling all the relevant groundwater wells at the landfill, the special master has approved our request to proceed with testing as planned," said an emailed statement from the attorney general's office. "Republic is clearly worried about what the tests will reveal, and the public deserves to know why.”
Area activist and Maryland Heights resident Dawn Chapman, who has pressured state and federal officials to conduct more extensive testing of the site, praised the decision.
"Whenever someone wants to go on this site, especially when they're offering to pay for it and test and find out new, better more thorough information, that shouldn't be denied to them," Chapman sad.
In an emailed statement, Russ Knocke, spokesperson for Republic Services, stressed that MDNR does not have jurisdiction over the groundwater wells state officials wish to test:
"But, the state has agreed to limit its sampling so it does not include radiologic constituents within EPA’s responsibility, and EPA has agreed the state may collect these samples and water level measurements," Knocke wrote. "Given those agreements, we will be working cooperatively with the state to complete this work, along with the current regular groundwater monitoring event.”