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EPA To Conduct More Testing At West Lake Landfill, Delay Cleanup Of Radioactive Waste

The West Lake Landfill, seen from St. Charles Rock Road in Bridgeton.
File Photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis Public Radio
The EPA is extending the time it's expecting to develop a plan for cleaning up radioactive waste at the West Lake Landfill, delaying the start of the excavation process past 2020.

The Environmental Protection Agency has decided to conduct additional tests for radioactive contamination at the West Lake Landfill, which would delay its excavation of the Superfund site.

When the EPA region that oversees Missouri released its final plan last September to remove 70% of the radioactivity at the site, officials said the cleanup would begin after they spent 18 months planning how to remove the World War II-era waste.

EPA officials announced this week that parties responsible for the landfill signed an agreement with the agency to design the excavation plan. Because of the additional testing, the cleanup won’t begin for two and a half years, EPA spokesperson Ben Washburn said.

“We believe that taking this time to identify those pockets in the remedial design is going to lead to greater efficiencies and worker safety and community safety during the excavation,” Washburn said.

Washburn could not say if the change to the timeline would extend the overall cleanup past four and a half years, the amount of time EPA officials originally said the excavation would be completed. The parties responsible for the Superfund site include Republic Services subsidiary Bridgeton Landfill, Rock Road Industries, the Cotter Corporation and the U.S. Department of Energy. 

Federal officials also are planning to dig between 12 and 20 feet at the site, depending on the amount of waste that exists in any area. The original plan called for digging at 16 feet. By varying the depths, workers will be able to dig out more contamination, said Washburn.

"EPA's update is a fair reflection of where the process is,” Bridgeton Landfill spokesperson Richard Callow said. “The additional 18 months of the design phase is a reflection of the differences in approach between the illustrative possible recommendations announced by EPA and the actually announced amended record of decision."

While many area residents have wanted the agency to conduct further testing, they also are eager for excavation to begin, said Dawn Chapman, a local activist based in Maryland Heights.

“While I understand that lengthening this phase might lessen other phases, we’re pushing this back past 2020,” Chapman said. “It’s frustrating, and I think it highlights overall the failures of the Superfund program and the need to update it. Having the responsible parties do the scientific tests, they’re clearly not good enough, and now we need more.”

Chapman hopes that the extended timeline for the planning phase will provide EPA officials the chance to consider how to address groundwater contamination at the site. The federal agency treats the groundwater portion of the site as a separate Superfund site that will eventually receive its own cleanup plan.

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