Where Do the Children Play?

 How Bridgeton ended up spending $350,000 to build a new playground at the city’s radioactively-contaminated ball fields.

 

Bridgeton Mayor Terry Briggs and Missouri State Sen. Brian Williams share in the ribbon-cutting  on January 22, 2021 for the  new $350,000 playground located at the radioactively-contaminated Bridgeton Municipal Athletic Complex.

Bundled against the cold and appropriately masked, representatives of the St. Louis Community Foundation and Bridgeton Parks Department joined Bridgeton Mayor Terry Briggs and Missouri Sen. Brian Williams January 22 for the opening of the new $350,000 playground at the Bridgeton Municipal Athletic Complex.

In his remarks at the dedication ceremony, Williams praised the city’s generous expenditure.  “This playground opens up even more opportunities for families to enjoy community and get fresh air,” Williams said.  “This is a community with its eye on the future, where families can live and play safely because this city invests in its people.”

Unfortunately, the senator omitted  inconvenient details such as the radioactively contaminated soil at the site.

The city of Bridgeton paid for the playground with a grant from the Bridgeton Landfill  Community Project Fund, which was set up in 2018 to dole out the multi-million-dollar settlement agreed to by the state of Missouri and Republic Services for the trash company’s environmental violations at the nearby West Lake Superfund site, which is also contaminated with nuclear waste dating back to the Manhattan Project.

As a part of that unprecedented deal, the office of then-Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley —  acting on behalf of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources —  handed over $12.5 million to the St. Louis Community Foundation, a private charity. Under the terms of the agreement, the private foundation has sole responsibility for distributing public funds to eligible, non-profit community organizations within four miles of the landfill.

The state senator’s decision to focus his remarks on the future is understandable. But his optimistic vision turned a blind eye on BMAC’s dark past, omitting any reference to hazardous materials at the site.

The complicated history related to the city’s ownership of the property dates back more than a half century, when Bridgeton purchased the land from an investment group headed by the owner of B&K Construction, the same company that illegally dumped tons of radioactively-contaminated soil at West Lake Landfill. 

A decade ago community activists began raising concerns over the potential risks posed by children playing ball at BMAC, citing its toxic link to the nearby landfill. This created tensions between some residents and Bridgeton city officials, who claimed there was no cause for alarm.

Ultimately, the EPA acted as the arbiter of the dispute and sided with city officials, reassuring the public that there was no cause for alarm.

 In 2014, EPA Region VII administrator Karl Brooks held a press conference at Bridgeton City Hall with then-Mayor Conrad Bowers to advise the public that their fears were unwarranted. Brooks based his conclusion on test results that had yet to be released. He blamed the press for causing a panic, and said that the agency’s calculations were based on science. 

But EPA documents later released under the Freedom of Information Act reveal Brooks’ comments were deceptive. The internal agency emails indicate test results cited by Brooks to bolster public confidence were themselves questioned by an EPA official days before Brooks’ pronounced the ball fields safe.

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. Internal EPA emails released under the Freedom of Information Act show that

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

Tapia’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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shaky Foundation

Details as to why outgoing Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley decided to give $12.5 million of the state’s settlement with Republic Services to the St. Louis Community Foundation remain a state secret — because nobody’s talking. 

Bridgeton Mayor Terry Briggs (right) participates in a roundtable discussion at a forum held at the Bridgeton Recreation Center by the St. Louis Community Foundation on Tuesday November 27, 2018

St. Louis Community Foundation CEO Amelia Bond says she doesn’t know why outgoing Republican Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley handed over $12.5 million of the state’s settlement with the Republic Services to the charity she heads.

“I can’t speak to why. You’ll have to ask the attorney general’s office,” Bond says.  The foundation CEO then shifted the conversation and began reciting a litany of laurels  about the non-profit organization’s other charitable work.

Bond was on hand Tuesday morning at the Bridgeton Recreation Center for the first of a series of forums that will be held this week and next to discuss how best to use the money for community betterment in the vicinity of the radioactively-contaminated West Lake Superfund site in North St. Louis County, which is owned by Republic Services.

The Office of the Missouri Attorney General first informed the St. Louis Community Foundation of its decision to consider awarding the majority of  the $16-million lawsuit settlement to the charity in May, says Maria G. Bradford, the foundation’s director of community engagement.

St. Louis Community Foundation Engagement Director Maria G. Bradford

Bradford also denied knowledge of why the state attorney general made the unusual decision to transfer the public funds to the non-governmental foundation. She too referred questions related to  the terms of the settlement to  Hawley’s office. The office of the attorney general has repeatedly declined to answer those questions in the past.

Under the terms of the brokered deal, the charity will oversee the specially created Bridgeton Landfill Community Project Fund, which will dole out grants to qualified non-profits to address environmental, public health and safety issues within a four-mile  radius of the landfill site, where nuclear waste leftover from the Manhattan Project was dumped illegally in 1973.

Though not unprecedented, Bond says to her knowledge there are only a few other cases in which the  Office of the Missouri Attorney General has designated the St. Louis Community Foundation to act as its fiduciary. In those rare instances, the amount of public money placed under the foundation’s control was much smaller than the $12.5 million that was part of the deal Hawley cut with Republic  Services.

St. Louis Community Foundation CEO Amelia Bond

Bond is married to Arthur Bond III, the nephew of former U.S. Sen. Christopher “Kit” Bond of Missouri. In 2016-2017, Kit Bond Strategies, the lobbying firm headed by the former senator, was paid $230, 000 to represent the interests of the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership, including congressional lobbying efforts to turn over the West Lake clean up to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. That effort failed. The Partnership is a joint agency of the city of St. Louis and St. Louis County set up to promote economic growth by melding private and public interests. It is not directly connected to the activities of the St. Louis Community Foundation.

But there is an indirect connection between the two organizations. Kit Bond, the founder of Kit Bond Strategies, has served on the board of directors of the St. Louis Community Foundation. However, Amelia Bond, a well-qualified investment banker, says she was hired to lead the St. Louis Community  Foundation prior to Kit Bond joining the board of directors of the charity, and that her relationship to the senator did not play a role in her being named CEO of the foundation.

Linda and Kit Bond of Kit Bond Strategies

About 40 people were present at the kick off event at the Bridgeton Recreation Center.  Attendees included residents, community advocates and municipal officials, including Bridgeton Mayor Terry Briggs, Councilman Ferd Fetsch, and Police Chief Don Hood.

The agreement announced in June, closed the book on five years of litigation conducted mainly behind closed doors between the state of Missouri and the trash company, which owns both the smoldering  Bridgeton Landfill and adjacent West Lake Lake Landfill that is contaminated with radioactive waste.

Then-Attorney General Kris Koster filed the suit against Bridgeton Landfill and Republic Services, its parent company,  on behalf of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources in 2013,

Missouri Attorney General and U.S. Senator-Elect Josh Hawley.

asserting violations of the law by Republic Services  that caused harm to the environment and human health. The case continued after Hawley took office last year. Hawley, now U.S. Senator-elect, will leave his state post for Washington in January. Gov. Mike Parson, who was installed as  Missouri’s chief executive after Gov. Eric Grietens resigned in  June, has appointed Missouri Treasurer Eric Schmitt to take Hawley’s place. Schmitt is a partner in Lathrop & Gage, a law firm that represents Republic Services.

The agreement required Republic to reimburse MDNR for $2 million in staff time, pay a civil penalty of $1 million and $500,000 for damages to the state’s natural resources. The corporation is also required to monitor air and groundwater under state supervision contingent upon obtaining $26 million in bond funding. 

But three-quarters of the settlement will be put into money market accounts exclusively handled by the St. Louis Community Foundation — which was not a party to the suit and does not have a depth of experience in environmental protection issues.

The final clean up plan by the U.S. EPA, which carries an estimated price tag of more than $200 million, was announced in late September.  That compromise decision calls for the partial removal of the radioactively-contaminated materials from the site, leaving the remaining waste to continue leaking into the groundwater of the Missouri River.  Making matters worse, acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler last week officially downgraded the urgency of cleaning up the West Lake Superfund site, which will further delay remediation.

Current efforts by the St. Louis Community Foundation on behalf of the office of the state attorney general to address ancillary issues and allegedly bring healing to residents of the impacted area seem premature given that not a single shovelful of radioactively-contaminated dirt has yet to be removed from the long-neglected site.

During a break in the meeting,  Dawn Chapman, who has led community efforts to address the landfill problem for years, expressed frustration in the latest turn of events. “It seems like they’re putting the cart before the horse,” she says.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bradford also denied knowledge how and and why Missouri Attorney General Hawley made the unusual decision to transfer