The West Lake Landfill has been in limbo for over two decades. And it seems January may be the month of decisions regarding the site.
It seems the State of Missouri and Republic Services have reached a preliminary agreement regarding West Lake. The lawsuit was filed in 2013 by then-Attorney General Chris Koster.
A court document states, “that an agreement has been reached in principal on many of the key issues set for trial.”
The Circuit Court of St. Louis County has released the parties from a March 5 trial date in an “attempt to reach a final settlement agreement and consent judgement on all issues.”
But the lawsuit wasn’t the only issue keeping West Lake in somewhat of a limbo. For 27 years, Missourians have been waiting for a decision by the Environmental Protection Agency to either excavate or cap the West Lake. And that decision should arrive in the next several days.
“We should be able to announce a decision in the month of January,” EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said in December. There is less than a week left of January for Pruitt to announce which plan — the EPA contracted a feasibility study on seven different options — he has decided on.
The site does contain illegally dumped radioactive waste from the World War II-era Manhattan Project, but the waste is contained and safe for nearby residents.
Extensive government testing has shown that West Lake has put no radioactive chemicals into the air or dispersed any radioactive chemicals into the area around it. The site is considered contained since the waste can’t run off in storm water or become airborne.
Pruitt must decide whether to cap the site, partially excavate it or fully excavate it. Each method has several different options available and all where deemed with EPA’s acceptable range in potential cancer risk.
“The overwhelming evidence at West Lake Landfill favors a cap-in-place solution,”J. Winston Porter, a previous assistant administrator of the EPA, wrote in a editorial. “The cost and timeline for a cap are reasonable and the solution is safe for residents and environmental workers.”
Capping the landfill would be the mostly timely and least expensive solution according to the feasibility study conducted. It would involve the installation of landfill cover meeting the Missouri closure and post-closure care requirements for sanitary landfills.
According to the study the it would “protect human health and the environment by providing source control and institutional controls for the landfilled waste materials.”
Capping the landfill would cost and estimated $75 million dollars in capital construction and be completed with 3 years.
Of the six other proposal, three methods involved partial excavation and two involved complete excavation.
Partial excavation methods had a time from of 4 to 8 years and cost anywhere between $187 million and $379 million in capital construction. The proposal titled “Risk-Based Partial Excavation” actually had the lowest rate of expect cancer risk of any method and would involve 5 percents of radiologically impacted material being removed.
Off-site and on-site disposal of the full excavation of waste was also looked at. Off-site would cost roughly $695 million and take more than 14 years but had the second lowest risk of cancer. On-site site disposal would cost an estimated $591 million in capital construction, take nearly 15 years and has the second highest risk of cancer.
A Washington Times editorial says, “In [Pruitt’s] rush to resolve the problem the EPA may be about to make a bad choice, succumbing to political pressure from the left, which is never satisfied with anything less than everything it demands.”
Progressive Missouri State Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal is asking for the waste to be dug up and taken in trucks to another landfill specifically designed to handle radiological waster. Most, including the delegation, agrees that the worst outcome would be further delays.
“For some sites on the Superfund list, that may be the correct call. But not this landfill. Both the state of Missouri and the federal government have conducted extensive testing of the levels of radioactivity, which decline year after year, and found that the levels are well within what is considered safe and acceptable,” the editorial states. “Mr. Pruitt is said to be thinking that the waste be excavated as demanded, and stored on site.”
Porter noted in his editorial that the Superfund law “specifically requires that the government select a protective and cost-effective clean-up plan.”
There has been diverse opinions from Missourians regarding the West Lake Landfill.
In 2017, Dawn Chapman, Just Moms STL co-founder, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “I do know for certain that our congressional offices – bipartisan, Democrat and Republican – have told him, ‘Don’t you cap this – don’t do it.’”
But Molly Teichman, chair of the Coalition to Keep Us Safe, contradicted her statement.
“Mrs. Chapman is entitled to her own opinion, but she’s not entitled to her own facts,” Teichman said. “Only Rep. Lacy Clay supports a dangerous plan for excavation that will be long, dangerous and expensive. The rest of the delegation remains committed to a safe and quick cleanup. That fact is that excavation only delays cleanup at the site and puts more locals and workers at risk.”
It should be noted that Pruitt has not made any specific proposal he might choose and that speculation is based off recommendation he made regarding other Superfund sites.
Alisha Shurr was a reporter for The Missouri Times and The Missouri Times Magazine. She joined The Missouri Times in January 2018 after working as a copy editor for her hometown newspaper in Southern Oregon. Alisha is a graduate of Kansas State University.