Damn Lies

The EPA fudged its 2014 test results of the Bridgeton Athletic Complex, assuring the public that the ballfields were safe, while withholding data that warranted further investigation. 

Internal EPA emails show the agency was aware that radiation levels at the Bridgeton Athletic Complex were above background levels, but failed to clearly alert the public of its findings in a timely manner.

The series of internal agency emails obtained by The First Secret City reveal that the EPA knew that multiple radio-isotopes found within inches of the surface at BMAC exceeded 5 pico curies per gram, one of the varying benchmarks set by government regulators to determine so-called permissible levels of exposure.

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Bridgeton Mayor Conrad Bowers and EPA Regional Administrator Karl Brooks at the 2014 BMAC press conference (courtesy of STL Radioactive Waste Legacy)

In an email dated June 23, 2014, Cecilia Tapia, director of Environmental Sciences and Technology for EPA Region 7,  cited differing action levels for radioactive isotopes and advised her colleagues that they should consider swapping one standard over another.

In her email message, Tapia cited the EPA’s supplemental feasibility study’s “action levels,” but added this caveat: “It may be more appropriate to use the SLAPS numbers.” 

Using one set of numbers instead of the other could have effected the EPA’s decision on BMAC.

SLAPS is the acronym for the 21.7 acre St. Louis Airport Site, a radioactively-contaminated property originally under the control of the U.S. Department of Energy.  In 1997, that clean up was handed over to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which has authority over it and other sites in the St. Louis area through the DOE’s Formerly Utilized Site Remediation Program (FUSRAP).

DOE’s permissible levels are generally stricter than the EPA’s corresponding standards.

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EPA official Cecilia Tapia

The EPA official’s comment is subject to interpretation, but any way it’s sliced the numbers cited in the related email chain among EPA contractors and agency officials show one undeniable fact: The EPA had verified through its own testing that there were radiation levels of concern at BMAC, but then acted to downplay the significance of its own findings.

Three days after Tapia suggested revising the applicable standards, then-EPA Regional Administrator Karl Brooks assured the public there was no cause for concern. In its June 26 press release, the EPA announced without equivocation that it was safe to play ball at BMAC.

“EPA’s analysis of data collected from more than 58,000 surface points across BMAC suggests no levels of gamma radiation that would pose public health concerns for users of this facility,” Brooks said. “This was a thorough scientific survey, coupled with meticulous review and quality control checks of the data.”

Brooks assurances came despite knowledge that levels of Lead 210, Potassium 40, Thorium 234 and Uranium 238 detected at BMAC exceeded naturally occurring background levels of those isotopes in the environment. The administrator’s questionable assurances were based on an arcane agency formula that mandates remedial action only when radioactive contamination is found to be twice the normally occurring background levels. Moreover, EPA remediation standards are not as strict for  recreational areas.

Screen Shot 2017-06-06 at 4.13.50 PM.pngIn this case, the EPA gave its stamp of approval to allow children to play baseball in an area that was determined by its own testing to be radioactively contaminated.

Department of Energy guidelines for thorium and radium concentrations mandate they not exceed 5 picocuries per gram averaged over the first 15 centimeters of soil and 15 picocuries per gram in subsequent soil layers of the same thickness. The EPA testing at BMAC found Thorium 234 levels of 5.14 pico curies per gram. But EPA standards aren’t as stringent as DOE’s. The EPA’s  action level for Thorium is 7.9 pico curies per gram.

Before the EPA began any testing at BMAC, Brooks held a press conference at the Bridgeton City Hall on May 9, 2014 to announce that the ballfields were safe and dismiss the independent test results carried out by Just Moms STL, a community organization.

Dawn Chapman of Just Moms STL believes that the EPA deceived the public concerning the levels of radiation at BMAC. The organization she founded has been fighting for years  to remove the radioactive waste from the nearby West Lake Superfund Site in Bridgeton.  Chapman questions why the agency didn’t dig deeper after finding radioactive contamination near the surface at BMAC.

“That is what those bastards found in 2 inches of soil,” says Chapman. “These numbers show that it is there above background,” says Chapman. “The deception is that at no time did EPA admit to finding any waste on that field. There is a difference between it being there and it being there at clean up levels.”

 

Hot Property

 

 Profiteering and Political Cronyism Presaged the Dumping of Radioactive Waste at West Lake LandfillColonial

In 1969, the city of Bridgeton paid more than $200,000 for a 26-acre tract of land now known as the Bridgeton Athletic Complex (BMAC). The beneficiary of the land deal was an investment group headed by the late Kenneth Davis, co-owner of B&K Construction, the company responsible for later dumping tons of radioactively contaminated dirt at nearby West Lake Landfill.

Foes on the Bridgeton Council then estimated that investors made nearly a 100-percent profit on the deal, according to Bridgeton City Council minutes uncovered by STL Reporter.

Opponents also raised questions as to whether politics played a role in the lucrative transaction. Their suspicions centered on the cozy relationship between then-St. Ann Mayor Clarence Tiemeyer, one of the other investors in the land deal, and his frequent business partner Kenneth Davis, the co-owner of B&K.   Tiemeyer was then considered the most powerful municipal leader in North St. Louis County.

The Bridgeton land deal transpired during the scandal-ridden mayoral administration of Earl Davis (no known relation to Kenneth Davis). Mayor Davis was indicted in 1969 by the St. Louis County prosecutor for bribing a land developer in a separate scheme. He was acquitted of that charge.

The BMAC ball fields became a point of controversy again last year, when a group of community activists charged that soil samples indicated the presence of Lead 210, a radioactive isotope at the site.

After the activists announced their findings in May 2014,  then-Bridgeton Mayor Conrad Bowers and EPA officials dismissed the evidence as unscientific and assured the public that the athletic fields were safe for use. Subsequent testing by the EPA confirmed the presence of radiation above background levels at the site but not exceeding the agency’s standard of remediation.

Activists countered by disputing the EPA’s methods and protocols.

Despite the recent attention, the history of the property has been largely ignored.

B&K Construction of St. Ann, Mo. dumped the radioactively contaminated materials at the landfill in North St. Louis County in 1973 while working under contract for the Cotter Corp. of Colorado.

Robert and Kenneth Davis, two brothers, formed B&K in 1954. During the long tenure of St. Ann Mayor Clarence Tiemeyer, the company maintained a profitable relationship with the city, receiving a raft of contracts for street repairs. In return, Kenneth Davis helped raise money for the mayor and his political allies.

Tieymeyer and Davis had other close ties, too, including sitting on the board of directors of Cherry Hills Country Club and Colonial Bank. The same bank would later be revealed to be the depository of Bridgeton Park Department funds even though it paid below average interest rates on the money.

A report issued by the Atomic Energy Commission in 1970 indicated that B&K employed off-duty police officers to guard the facility, which raises questions as to the possible complicity of local law enforcement in the illegal dumping. The Atomic Energy Commission and succeeding responsible government authorities have failed to investigate the history of this case.

Tiemeyer was a political ally of the late Rep. Robert Young, who maintained an office in the same strip mall as B&K’s headquarters on Cypress Road. Young, a Democrat and a member of the politically powerful steamfitters union, now known as the pipefitters,  served in the state legislature before becoming a U.S. congressman. In the early 1970s, press accounts revealed that Irene Young, the congressman’s wife, received payments from the city of St. Ann for acting as an insurance agent for the city.

During this period, Young’s labor union — Local 562 — held sway over politics in North St. Louis County, while its leadership was known to have ties to organized crime.