ST. LOUIS — The Environmental Protection Agency today released further information that the area outside West Lake Landfill does not possess radioactive waste, another in a series of scientific reports calling into question the credibility of some activists uproar. The latest study affirms House Republicans decision not to spend $1,000,000 in taxpayer money to buyout homes in the area studied.
The residential sampling was conducted in the Bridgeton area the week of December 26, 2016. Due to the results, CERCLA (also known as Superfund) action is not warranted.
This is not the first time the EPA has found scientific results that fail to match claims in Spanish Village and Bridgeton. After hearing the concerns and a lawsuit, the EPA chose to pursue the sampling in the area.
“EPA acted quickly in conjunction with the state of Missouri, the Corps of Engineers, and the CDC, once we learned of the allegation of potential contamination inside a residence in Spanish Village,” Acting EPA Region 7 Administrator Edward H. Chu said. “We collected and analyzed over 140 samples, and our evaluation of the data shows no Manhattan Project waste was found in the homes sampled in Spanish Village.”
The report of the investigation comes days after a bill from an area state senator, Maria Chappelle-Nadal, was repeatedly debated in both chambers before ultimately dying in the House. The bill would have allocated for the state to spend the $1,000,000 to buy out homes that activists claimed were contaminated in the area. The results of the investigation did not show there to be contaminated homes in the area targeted by the Senator. The EPA did not testify in regards to the legislation.
“What this amendment does is that we non-scientists are declaring homes to be uninhabitable if a certain amount of this element is in the ground,” Rep. Jay Barnes said on the last day of the session about an amendment to the bill. “This is not a courtroom, this is not an executive agency. It is beyond what we are supposed to do under our constitutional powers.”
Yesterday, shortly after the release of the EPA report Chappelle-Nadal took to Twitter to comment.
“Looks like the EPA will be sued as well. Who knows? People are dying in St. Louis due to radioactive waste contamination.”
Not the first time activists claims rebuffed by the EPA
Local activists have been in a lengthy uproar over personally conducted radiation tests performed with non-scientific Geiger counters donated by a local attorney. That attorney is currently suing the landfill’s owner. In both 2014 and 2015, there were media outcries over the annual Cinco de Mayo Slugfest normally played at the Bridgeton Municipal Athletic complex, located less than a mile from the landfill. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that activists had measured high amounts of gamma radiation from tests they conducted on parking lot drainage at the complex. The tournament was canceled in 2014 and moved in 2015, despite the EPA’s final comprehensive report of scientific surface gamma radiation screening and soil sampling of the Bridgeton Municipal Athletic Complex in Bridgeton showing the facility is suitable for public use and requiring no further environmental response, EPA Region 7 announced in July 2014.
“Local residents and visitors can be assured that a thorough scientific survey and review process has confirmed that the public can continue to gather and play at BMAC, and that no additional environmental action is warranted for this facility,” EPA Regional Administrator Karl Brooks said.
The tournament canceling and relocation has local businesses worried about the economic impact on their own and surrounding businesses. Additionally, there has been an outcry from local businesses that the repeated claims have a negative impact on economic development.
The difference and conflict between Coldwater Creek and West Lake
While often easy to conflate there are vast differences between the West Lake landfill and the Coldwater Creek situations and the activists involved. The longstanding community activism in Spanish Lake continues to frustrate those in Coldwater Creek, an area with scientific reports of radiation and health problems, who believe some “activists” and trial lawyers are piggybacking off of their problems. Many of these were outlined in Rep. Justin Hill’s speech on the floor of the House the last day of session which included discussing his wife’s battle with cancer.
“This is something [Coldwater Creek residents] consistently battle [West Lake Landfill activists] on,” Angela Helbling of Coldwater Creek said on Facebook. “The other thing I find alarming is that other (like Maria [Chappelle-Nadal]) are trying to paint the picture that our collective illnesses at Coldwater Creek, as outlined by our informational health survey; are due exposure to landfill emissions/landfill fire; which is not true. I buried my mom 21 years ago. Long before the fire. She is being used (just like everyone else who is represented in our health survey) to push political agendas and buyouts that only benefit those responsible for contamination at Coldwater Creek in the first place.”
The attempts to separate themselves from the West Lake Landfill activist Coldwater Creek activists have formed Just the Facts Please, a group to raise awareness of the Coldwater Creek issues and submitted a letter against SB22.
“Ms. Chappelle-Nadal states that the reason for the buyout is related to the cancer cluster. The Senator points to the cancer cluster maps created by the Coldwater Creek group and a recent DHSS report. As one of the creators of the ongoing health survey, disease cluster maps and advisor to the DHSS report, I would like to clarify that the radiation linked illness information illustrated in the maps is not related to the landfill. The cancer/ disease cluster is specifically related to the Coldwater Creek contamination and watershed. Chronic exposure health related issues can take 10 – 20 years to present as illness”, wrote Kimberly M. Visintine a founding member of Just the Facts Please. “The cancer cluster that Ms. Chappell-Nadal continually references is predominantly from exposure that occurred decades ago, prior to commencement of remediation of the creek contamination. Many who have been diagnosed with radiation-linked cancers near West Lake were previous residents and exposure victims of Coldwater Creek. The DHSS study considers 8 zip codes of Coldwater Creek watershed, and neighboring communities, over a 15-year period, prior to the fire commencement at West Lake Landfill, to capture chronic exposure from the creek and DNA mutations in children of former creek residents. Information can be verified at our website www.coldwatercreekfacts.com.”
There are still ongoing efforts to address the heath issues at Coldwater creek which is just over 13 miles from the landfill site.
The impact of the latest EPA report
West Lake Landfill, containing the Manhattan Project waste, is owned by Republic Services, who has regularly cited the scientific data repeatedly released by the EPA over non-scientific tests conducted by lawyers and activists. While the waste was placed in the landfill decades before Republic purchased, it has been the target of lawsuits surrounding the waste.
In the past, the Finney Law Office in St. Louis donated a Geiger counter to the West Lake Group Just Moms STL, and that firm along with Hausfeld Global Litigation Solutions in Washington D.C. are working on litigation that would ostensibly sue Republic over the handling of the landfill since they purchased it.
Republic was quick to respond to the latest EPA findings.
“Either listen to the scientists or the trial attorneys. It’s that simple now,” said Russ Knocke, vice president of communications and public affairs at Republic Services, said. “For too long, out-of-state trial attorneys have victimized the community. They’ve had politicians and activists doing their bidding, making ridiculous, alarmist claims. They’ve intimidated, scared and confused people.
“We now have five federal and state agencies, who are the authorities on public health and environment, saying ‘enough.’ They’ve tested the neighborhood. They found nothing. Enough is enough. And, regarding Maria, she owes a lot of people an apology. The line is long. She’d better get started.”
Chappelle-Nadal took to the senate floor on the last day of session after her bill was handily defeated in the house and began filibustering by reading the book Spies of the Congo. Shortly after republican initiated a previous question motion to end debate.
She has committed to pick up where she left off reading the book in a special session called by the Governor to bring an iron smelter and over 500 jobs to Missouri’s bootheel.
The EPA coordinated with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), Missouri Department of Natural Resources, Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, and the Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC’s) Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry in developing this sampling plan and reviewing the analytical results.
The EPA screened the area for alpha, beta, and gamma radiation. From those results, the EPA took it a step further in using the results to test exterior soil samples and further interior surface wipe and dust samples. The EPA then sent the samples to a certified laboratory to determine the concentrations of various radionuclides, including radionuclides associated with Manhattan Project waste.
The results showed all normal ranges for each analyzed sample with no relation to any of the materials found at West Lake Landfill. Because of the results, the EPA is standing by former results showing no further action is needed.
The USACE St. Louis District provides subject matter experts and technical support to EPA for the West Lake Landfill site. For the pre-CERCLA screenings that were completed, the St. Louis District coordinated the sampling protocol and assisted EPA in reviewing the analysis of the screenings. The USACE St. Louis District concurs that all protocol standards were followed and the findings of the screenings are valid.
The final report of the Bridgeton dust pre-CERCLA screening is available online.
Rachael Herndon was the editor at The Missouri Times and also produced This Week in Missouri Politics, published Missouri Times Magazine, and co-hosted the #MoLeg podcast. She joined The Missouri Times in 2014, returning to political reporting after working as a campaign and legislative staffer.
Rachael studied at the University of Missouri – Columbia. She lives in Jefferson City with her husband, Brandon, and their two children.