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Op Ed: Taxpayer funded buyouts aren’t the answer

By Stacy Washington

Second EPA report clears homes around West Lake Landfill of suspicion of radiation contamination

Superfund site cleanup is the EPA’s job– taxpayer funded buyouts aren’t the answer here.

We have 40 Superfund sites that require environmental cleanup located within the Show Me State.  Homeowners near one such site, the West Lake Landfill, are advocating for Missouri legislators to pass a bill that would make taxpayers responsible for on buying out property owners near the site when the obligation lies with the Environmental Protection Agency.  Fortunately, SB 22 failed to pass muster in the Missouri Senate but that dud will be back next session unless we fully consider what the Environmental Protection Agency plans to do.  The EPA announced a targeted effort to refocus its direction towards cleanup of the nation’s 1,300 plus Super Fund sites earlier this month.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt issued a memo stating in part, “The Superfund program is a vital function of Environmental Protection Agency, and under my administration, Superfund and EPA’s land and water cleanup efforts will be restored to their rightful place at the center of the Agency’s core mission.”  Excellent, instead of utilizing the power of the agency to advance partisan efforts such as reducing American’s use of coal as a fuel source, the EPA utilize the full force of it’s power to clean contaminated sites quickly.  In the case of the West Lake Landfill the issue isn’t clean up, it’s capping or removing uranium, buried deep underground.  Just the evaluation on what to do has taken nearly 30 years to make.

Pruitt’s memo describes how the EPA would accomplish the redirection: “As such, in order to facilitate the more rapid remediation and revitalization of contaminated sites and to promote accountability and consistency in remedy selection, I have issued the accompanying revised CERCLA delegation of authority.  With this revised delegation, authority previously delegated to the Assistant Administrator for Office of Land and Emergency Management and the Regional Administrators to select remedies estimated to cost $50 million or more at sites shall be retained by the Administrator.”

This memo should come as welcome relief to residents of Bridgeton’s Spanish Village neighborhood.  A family there alleged that private testing showed dangerous levels of contamination stemming from the West Lake Landfill.  When the community gathered to consider what was found, there was discussion of a lawsuit.  The EPA responded quickly to the residents’ concerns.

In a recently released statement the acting Region 7 EPA Administrator Edward H. Chu stated the Corp of Engineers, the State of Missouri and the Centers for Disease Control have acted quickly to collect and analyze over 140 samples from within and around two homes in Spanish Village.  The areas were screened for alpha, beta and gamma radiation.  Further, soil samples were collected as well as interior surfaces wiped and dust samples collected.  A certified laboratory determined the concentrations of radionuclides, specifically those associated with Manhattan project waste.

The results all returned within the normal range and below the residential screening levels according to EPA standards.  The EPA coordinated with the US Army Corps of Engineers, Missouri Department of Natural Resources and the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services and the CDC’s Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease registry to develop the plan utilized and review the diagnostic outcomes.  The results are now posted online for the public to review and the US Army Corp of Engineers has subject matter experts available to the Westlake Landfill site.

All of this due diligence should put homeowners and residents fears of health risks to rest.  The question of who should clean up the site has been deliberated: the EPA is on the hook.  Let’s address the misguided effort to have Missouri taxpayers “buy out” certain homeowners in the area: not only is this no longer needed, it was never a good plan.

It is the EPA’s responsibility to prioritize and clean up contaminated sites.  Not only is the agency’s administrator attuned to the urgency of the situation at over 300 dangerous sites across the nation, Administrator Pruitt mentioned West Lake Landfill clean up by name in a radio interview on the subject.  Pruitt highlighted a lack of sound leadership as the primary reason this issue has gone unaddressed since the 1990’s.  Pruitt called this unacceptable: “You know, we’re coming in trying to focus on a back to basics agenda to say look, it’s unacceptable for the Westlake facility in St. Louis, Missouri to languish on a national priority list for 20-plus years. It’s time for leadership.”

With the landfill on the radar of the current Administrator Pruitt and national attention on the West Lake Landfill site, we can expect to see closure on the attendant issues, leaving Missourians free to fund projects that clearly lie within our purview.