Buried History

Retired trucker Kenneth Kerpash says he witnessed two trucks  buried at the West Lake Landfill in the early 1980s.  In March,  he went public for the first time, repeating his claims to KSDK-TV. But there hasn’t been a follow up — and due to a technical glitch the original broadcast is no longer available.

Kenneth Kerpash speaking to EPA officials in March

In March, Kenneth Kerpash accompanied his daughter to an EPA meeting  in Bridgeton.  They felt it was important that they voice their support for a timely and thorough clean up of the nearby West Lake Landfill Superfund Site, which remains contaminated with nuclear weapons waste due to  decades of neglect by the agency.

Kerpash’s interest in the issue is personal.

The 65-year-old  retired truck driver from Troy, Mo. worked for the West Lake Quarry and Materials Co. for 14 years.  His wife now has stage four ovarian cancer. He believes that her illness may be the result of him bringing home radioactive contamination on his work clothes.

Kerpash carries another burden: He witnessed an incident at the quarry that he kept secret for 30 years.

Kerpash worked for the company from 1971 to 1984. Mallinckrodt Chemical Works created the waste while processing uranium for the Manhattan Project during World War II. In 1973, a local construction company dumped some of the Mallinckrodt mess at West Lake on St. Charles Rock Road — where it has remained ever since.

After Kerpash made his public comments to the EPA officials that evening, a TV news crew from KSDK-TV followed him to the corridor of the Machinists Union Hall to do a spot interview.  Reporter Christina Coleman, a relative newcomer to St. Louis, didn’t recognize Kerpash.

But her cameraman did.

KSDK’s Christina Coleman.

In 2013, KSDK had aired an expose featuring Kerpash,  who then appeared in silhouette to shield his identity. In the report, he anonymously alleged witnessing two trucks being buried at the landfill in the early 1980s. His claim is significant because the EPA has never conducted a grid test of the entire site since assuming authority over it in 1990.

When asked in March, Kerpash repeated the same story with the camera rolling.  This time, however, he was no longer just an anonymous source. He had come out of the shadows and attached his name and face to his account.

But the latest version of his account never aired, and Channel 5 hasn’t contacted Kerpash since then.

The original story — by former KSDK reporter Lisa Zigman — is no longer available at the television station’s website. In its place is this announcement: Error 404: The case of this missing page is unsolved … but don’t worry we have our best investigative reporters tracking down leads.  … Stay Tuned …”

KSDK says that the missing page is easily explained:  “A few years ago, we updated our publishing system, which in turn invalidated the links to articles published prior to that date. We are also unable to access these stories.”

It’s been more than three months and Kerpash hasn’t heard back from either Channel 5 or the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter, who also interviewed him the same night.

Former 5 reporter Lisa Zigman broke the story in 2013.

Kerpash is a private person. Public speaking is not his forte. He has never sought the limelight. It has been a struggle for him to come forward and reveal what he knows. Since speaking to the media earlier this year, his wife has been in and out of the hospital, and he sometimes wonders why he went public. But even now  as he copes with emotional and financial upheaval that has torn his life apart, he still feels a responsibility to provide full disclosure about what he viewed on the job so many years ago.

His memories of the incident remain vivid.

“It was in 81 or 82,” says Kerpash.  “They was S series  International single-axle tractors blue in color with white, tandem axle trailers. They was pulled down in a slot, in a ditch, on the construction fill and they was covered up right at dark. I’m just about positive that was in the fall of the year like September or October.

“[I] Don’t have any idea who was driving the trucks. I seen the guys get out of the trucks. They was in white overalls. They went and got in a dark-colored Mercury or Lincoln closed the door and went out the front gate.

“They had two dozers on the landfill, ” he says. “I was hauling four to midnight and I was hauling concrete rock that night.  I got off at midnight and this happened right around probably eight or nine o’clock, and they was covered up before I went home.”

Kerpash doesn’t know what the trucks contained, but remembers noticing the bulldozers moving construction fill southwest of the landfill office. “They dug a trench probably about 80 feet long and it was probably 15-16 feet deep.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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