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EPA, residents discuss capping West Lake Landfill ... again

Phil Perino, who lives near the West Lake Landfill, listened in on a public meeting with the EPA on Monday evening.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio
Phil Perino, who lives near the West Lake Landfill, listened in on a public meeting with the EPA on Monday evening.

Capping the radioactive contamination buried in the West Lake Landfill instead of moving the dirt offsite is one alternative the Environmental Protection Agency will consider this year as it determines a permanent solution for the site. But for residents in the crowd at a public meeting, it felt like a cruel round of deja vu. 

The EPA initially decided to cap the site in 2008 and issued a public Record of Decision, but “the public comments kept coming,” said Terrie Boguski, an independent technical assistant hired by the EPA. Concerns ranged from contaminated groundwater to the site’s vulnerability to natural disasters, such as  floods, earthquakes and tornadoes. 

The EPA’s Region VII presented the capping proposal as the first of three options during a public meeting in Bridgeton Monday evening. Future meetings will go over “partial excavation” and “full excavation” scenarios.

According to the agency’s timeline for the year, the EPA will make a final proposal for the West Lake Landfill’s permanent solution in December 2016. Residents will then have 60 days to submit public comments again.

The capping proposal includes a thick cover of dirt and rock over the landfill to keep radon or gamma radiation from leaking out, as well as continuous monitoring of groundwater and underground gases.

"It would look like a grassy field as you were driving by," Boguski said. "Generally, landfill covers — they're fairly effective. They do have to be maintained, they have to be inspected. If they develop cracks or they develop erosion, that has to be repaired." 

Doug Clemens, who chairs the Community Advisory Group, isn’t convinced. Groundwater has already been affected in the area, and the landfill doesn’t have a liner.

"We’re talking about things with a half life that take us into the billions of years of potential harm to the community. There’s no cap that’s going to last that long," Clemens said. 

Residents expressed frustration about the repetitiveness of the process.

“I’m surprised you are still considering the 2008 Record of Decision, when there was such an outcry,” said Kay Drey, an environmental activist. “To me, it’s like stepping back into a time warp.”

“What has come out since 2008 is a need to evaluate additional alternatives,” said Mary Petersen, pointing to the two excavation options that are now on the table.

Early in the evening, half a dozen picketers stood outside to protest the meeting. Their demands include a state of emergency to be issued, a buyout for residents who live within one mile of the landfill, and for the EPA to conduct remediation at the West Lake Landfill without a cap.

Follow Durrie on Twitter: @durrieB.