Congressmen Clay and Wagner take aim at a legislative roadblock that has stalled efforts to expedite the West Lake Landfill clean up.
In a rare showing of bi-partisan cooperation yesterday, two members of the St. Louis congressional delegation demanded the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers be put in charge of the radioactively-contaminated West Lake Landfill clean up in Bridgeton, Mo.
Seated at the same table in room 2123 of the Rayburn House Office Building, Rep. Ann Wagner (R- Mo. 2nd Dist.) and Rep. William “Lacy” Clay (D- Mo. 1st Dist.) made impassioned appeals to their colleagues on the Environment and the Economy Subcommittee to allow a floor vote on the bill that would shift control of the site to the Corps.
” The EPA has failed for more than 30 years in its clean up of nuclear waste dating back to the Manhattan Project and World War II,” Wagner said. She characterized the agency’s inaction as “heartless.”
Wagner added that the EPA essentially carried out a cover up of policy recommendations pertaining to West Lake.
” In June of this year, [a] document released by the National Remedy Review Board in 2013 was released by the EPA stating that removing radioactive waste at the landfill was feasible and could reduce long-term risks, contradicting the EPA’s earlier decision to leave the waste in place and capping [it],” said Wagner. “The fact that this 2013 document has not been available before last month shows the lack of transparency and accountability that the EPA has demonstrated throughout this entire process.”
Wagner said that belated testing by the EPA has revealed “radioactive material is consistently found outside the known contaminant area, bringing considerable doubt in EPA’s management of the site while pushing back the timeline for action.”
“Despite the seriousness of the situation,” said Wagner, “the EPA has still not made a decision about what to do with the waste, pushing back their self-imposed deadline for releasing a decision time after time, and year after year.”
In demanding that West Lake be turned over to the Corps, Wagner said the EPA has had 25 years to resolve the problem without success. “They have delivered zero results!” said Wagner. “The agency has undoubtedly lost the trust of the community and has lost my trust as well!” said Wagner, pounding her fist of the table.
When it came his turn, Rep. Clay was no less adamant.
The legislation has been stalled in the subcommittee for months due mainly to the opposition of Rep. Frank Pallone, (D-N.J.-6th Dist.), the ranking minority member on the panel. Pallone walked out of the hearing while the two Missouri congressmen were speaking.
In his address, Clay alleged that unnamed political opponents on the subcommittee were holding up the bill. “Some of the forces that want to keep this nuclear waste in the unlined West Lake Landfill ganged up to stop it. I’m greatly disappointed that this common sense bill has been delayed, obstructed and even deliberately misrepresented by some staff and certain members of this committee,” said Clay. “After 74 years of negligence by the U.S. government that is totally indefensible.
“The bill before you was crafted with strong grassroots support by the Missouri Coalition for the Environment, Just Moms St. Louis … and many other civic and environmental activists to address a 74-year-old nuclear legacy, which has subjected families to fear and suffering … too long,” said Clay.
“The nuclear waste that was generated from the manufacturing of those original atomic bombs and others that would follow forged a curse of radioactive contamination that is still inflicting pain and suffering on our constituents today,” said Clay.
Clay listed a litany of radioactive contaminants and other toxic waste that are present at the landfill near the Missouri River, a major hospital, the St. Louis airport, schools and Interstate highways. “Most troubling of all is the appalling fact that 1,000 of our constituents live less than a mile away from this illegal nuclear waste dump,” Clay said.
“The truth is that if you searched far and wide across this country it would be almost impossible to find a dumber, more dangerous, more completely irresponsible place to dump nuclear waste,” Clay said.
“And if you think this situation couldn’t get any worse, you’re wrong,” said Clay. “For the last four years, we’ve also been dealing with a creeping, underground landfill fire at the adjacent Bridgeton sanitary landfill, which is under the control of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. That underground fire is less than 1,000 feet from the buried nuclear waste,” Clay said.
“The U.S. government created this radioactive mess,” Clay declared. “We have a clear and unavoidable responsibility to finally clean it up. … Our legislation builds on the highly successful track record of FUSRAP, which is already cleaning up the same nuclear waste at other sites around St. Louis. It is fiscally responsible because even after the transfer of the West Lake Landfill the site would remain on the [EPA’s] Superfund list, which would preserve revenue streams to help fund the clean up from several responsible parties, including the Department of Energy, Republic Services and Cotter Corp.
“This bill has earned the bi-partisan support of Democrats and Republicans, religious coalitions, community activists, and respected scientific sources, who believe that a clean up like this should be put in the hands of those who have the strongest possible expertise in cleaning up nuclear waste,” Clay said.
A companion bill has already passed in the U.S. Senate with the bi-partisan support of Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.).
Both the House and Senate bills call for the Corps’ Formerly Utilized Sites Remedial Action Program (FUSRAP) to take charge of the West Lake Superfund site from the EPA, which has had responsibility for the clean up since 1990 and failed to achieve its goals.
In a statement submitted to the committee, an Army Corps official questioned taking over the clean up because of budgetry constraints. She added that the switch would also delay remediation.
Congress delegated FUSRAP with the authority to clean up other radioactive waste sites in the St. Louis region decades ago. The contamination was the result of uranium waste byproducts generated by the Mallinckrodt Chemical during World War II and the Cold War. For reasons that remain unclear, West Lake was excluded from the program and instead put under the control of the EPA in 1990.
Mallinckrodt worked under contract with the top-secret Manhattan Project beginning in 1942 to help produce the first atomic bombs. The company continued its work under the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) after World War II until 1968. During this time, multiple sites were contaminated in the bi-state area.
An estimated 50,000 tons of radioactively-contaminated dirt was illegally dumped at West Lake in 1973 by B&K Construction, a subcontractor of the Cotter Corp., which had purchased the materials earlier from the AEC. The AEC learned about the dumping the following year, but took no action to remove it.
The radioactive waste has been leaking into the ground water in the Missouri floodplain for more than 40 years.
In May, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, despite all the evidence to the contrary, reported that community concerns over the landfill and radioactive contamination of nearby Coldwater Creek were exaggerated, labeling them as “misplaced fears.” The newspaper’s coverage of the July 13 subcommittee hearing omitted almost all of the congressmen’s testimony and instead focused on the Corps statement that it lacked the funds to take over the project and that a switch now would delay the clean up.