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The St Louis West Lake’s radioactive time bomb must go

Editorial: EPA chief’s only true option is to remove West Lake’s radioactive hazards, By the Editorial Board, Jan 29, 2018 


      nvironmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt is

hours away from a decision

       on the future of the West Lake Landfill — a decision that could free the St. Louis area of the seven-decade environmental burden it has borne in America’s quest for nuclear superiority.

For Pruitt, the right decision would be costly and complicated. The wrong decision, though far cheaper and most expedient, would leave in place a radioactive nightmare that would haunt the region for generations to come. The right decision is the only decision.

At issue are thousands of tons of radioactive waste left over from secret uranium refinement carried out in St. Louis during the Manhattan Project, the 1940s effort to produce America’s first nuclear bomb. Although officials at the time were well aware of the radioactive dangers, they paid little heed to where they dumped the wastes from years of uranium processing. An uncovered, unlined pit at the West Lake landfill became the dumpsite of choice, two miles northwest of St. Louis Lambert International Airport.

The landfill, uphill and less than two miles from the Missouri River, was never designed for radioactive waste and never would have met today’s federal safety guidelines. Various radioactive hot zones have been discovered in downstream watersheds, as have large cancer clusters among residents. For years, a slow-moving underground fire at an adjacent landfill is believed to be advancing toward the buried nuclear waste.

 In tests conducted from 2012 to 2014, groundwater at West Lake contained unsafe levels of radioactive uranium, radium and thorium-230, along with arsenic, manganese, barium and benzene.

An exhaustive, 814-page EPA study, updated on Jan. 10, outlines the dangers and costs associated with six options Pruitt can choose from for West Lake. One option, doing nothing, is laughable. Three cheaper proposals call for partial excavation of the site at varying depths and capping the site but leaving many toxins behind. The two best options involve full excavation — one would store the waste on-site in a modern, secure containment cell, and the other would transport it offsite to a remote, federally approved storage facility.

 Full excavation and removal would keep the region safest over the long term. But it’s also the most expensive option at $695 million. Capping the site would cost about $75 million but also would pose the greatest future cancer risks to farmers and residents downstream.

Pruitt has the comfort of making this decision from Washington, D.C., far from the exposure zone. We urge him to consider all who have suffered so far because of the irresponsible, lazy solutions imposed on St. Louis decades ago. If Pruitt would regard it as unacceptable for his own family to be exposed to such risks, then he must conclude that St. Louisans deserve the same consideration. This radioactive time bomb must go.


February 17, 2018 - Posted by | environment, USA

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