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.”

 

Tom Slick’s Legacy

When the EPA trumpeted the findings of the Southwest Research Institute earlier this year,  it didn’t mention the founder’s quest for Yeti or his ties to the CIA. 

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In July, EPA Region VII announced that the prestigious Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio had analyzed soil samples from West Lake Landfill and found that heating  dirt from the radioactively-contaminated dump in a laboratory setting had not increased dangerous radon levels.

Community activists were not assured by the pronouncement, however. They are still demanding an expedited cleanup of the long neglected site in North St. Louis County and continue to question attempts by the press and the EPA to downplay the problem posed by the nuclear weapons waste.

For its part, the EPA  has cast the debate as one that pits the dismissive opinions of its so-called scientific experts against the public’s perception of risk, which they contend is based on rumors and misinformation.

A good argument could be made, however, that rumors and misinformation is the stuff from which the Southwest Research Institute spawned.

The late Tom Slick Jr.,  founder of the Southwest Research Institute, believed in the existence of the Yeti, aka, the abominable snowman; and he spent a considerable amount of time and money attempting to prove the creature was a reality.

You read correctly: One of the top government-approved research facilities in the country, with a revenue exceeding $500 million in 2015, was established by a bonafide cryptozoologist, a true believer, who spent years chasing after the abominable snowman, the subject of derision among generations of serious scientists who scoff at the idea and label it nothing more than pure science fiction.

It’s enough to give pause, when the EPA asserts that its contractors hold a monopoly on  irrefutable scientific facts.

But there’s more.

When he wasn’t chasing Bigfoot or giant Alpine salamanders, Slick operated a CIA air cargo company in his spare time, while managing his oil and cattle empire.

Apparently, the same curiosity and fervid imagination that fueled his search for monsters drove him to start up the research center in 1947. He subsequently bankrolled two expeditions to the Himalayan Mountains of Tibet in search of the legendary, hirsute biped.

The Tom Slick Foundation still helps support the Southwest Research Institute.

Slick also endowed the Tom Slick Professorship of World Peace at the University of Texas, where former EPA Region 7 administrator Karl Brooks now teaches.

Slick also went on a trek to the Canadian Northwest in search of the Yeti’s North American cousin, Bigfoot. Before either of these quests, Slick, while still in college at Yale,  journeyed to Scotland to investigate the legendary Loch Ness monster.

Slick inherited his wealth from his father, a wildcatter who struck black gold during the Oklahoma oil rush of the 1920s.

In the 1950s, Slick and his brother operated Slick Airways, a CIA air cargo company that operated in Asia before the notorious Air America of the Vietnam era.

There is speculation that Slick’s Tibetan expeditions were covers for covert CIA operations to gather intelligence on Chinese hegemony in the region.

His friends and associates included eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes and Hollywood actor Jimmy Stewart.

Slick, an avid pilot, died when his small plane crashed on a return flight from a Canadian hunting trip. He was 46 years old.

A planned feature film, Tom Slick, Mystery Hunter, starring Nicholas Cage was shelved in the 1990s.