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West Lake Landfill owner sues Mallinckrodt to help pay for nuclear waste cleanup

The West Lake Landfill, in the distance, sits adjacent to the Bridgeton Landfill.
File Photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
Bridgeton Landfill LLC, a subsidiary of Republic Services, has filed a federal lawsuit against Mallinckrodt to compel the company to help pay for the costs of removing nuclear waste from the West Lake Landfill Superfund site.

Bridgeton Landfill LLC, owner of the West Lake Landfill, filed a lawsuit Tuesday against pharmaceutical company Mallinckrodt to help pay for the cost of cleaning up radioactive waste at the federal Superfund site.

The Environmental Protection Agency issued a $205 million remediation plan for the West Lake Landfill last month. The strategy involves excavating about 70 percent of the site’s radioactivity and capping the rest. The costs of cleaning up Superfund sites fall on parties responsible for the contamination. For the West Lake Landfill, that includes Republic Services’ subsidiary Bridgeton Landfill, Rock Road Industries, the Cotter Corporation and the U.S. Department of Energy.

The suit, filed in federal court in St. Louis, seeks a jury trial to compel Mallinckrodt to pay the costs of cleaning up the West Lake Landfill.

“Mallinckrodt, a prime participant of the war effort that led to the contamination of the West Lake Landfill, belongs at this table,” said Richard Callow, a spokesperson for Bridgeton Landfill LLC.

Mallinckrodt Chemical Works, which later became Mallinckrodt, processed uranium at a factory in north St. Louis County for the Manhattan Project, the U.S. government’s effort to develop nuclear weapons during World War II. Waste from the uranium processing that took place was dumped illegally among several sites in north St. Louis County, including the West Lake Landfill.

“For decades, and to this day, the Department of Energy and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have been responsible for and are handling all clean-up efforts on these sites, under the supervision of the Environmental Protection Agency,” a Mallinckrodt spokesperson wrote in an emailed statement. “The EPA is aware of Mallinckrodt’s work for the U.S. government’s nuclear program and understands that Mallinckrodt did not send any residues or other materials associated with this government work to West Lake Landfill.”

Bridgeton Landfill LLC has long preferred capping all of the nuclear waste at the site, a solution the EPA nearly chose to execute in 2008. When the EPA released its record of the decision for West Lake, Republic Services released a statement that called the plan to remove waste “arbitrary and capricious.” The company added it would “engage vigorously” with the federal agency and other responsible parties to protect the community and on-site workers during the cleanup process.

“This is probably about trying to increase the financial liability of the Department of Energy at this site,” said Ed Smith, policy director for the Missouri Coalition for the Environment.

According to EPA Region 7 administrator Jim Gulliford, the responsible parties would decide among themselves how to much they would each contribute financially to the remediation.

Lenny Siegel, executive director of the Center for Public Oversight in California, has studied Superfund sites for about 30 years. It’s common for responsible parties to sue other entities to help spread cleanup costs, but it’s unlikely litigation will delay the remediation process, he said.

“Usually, EPA has the authority to require that the responsible parties move forward and they hope to collect later,” Siegel said. “A party may refuse an order from EPA and then go to court but usually that doesn’t pay off because they end up having to pay extra for the cleanup. The norm is to have the litigation while the remediation is taking place.”

EPA officials plan to begin excavating nuclear waste at the site in 18 months, after they design the cleanup plan.

Follow Eli on Twitter: @StoriesByEli


Eli is the science and environment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.