UPDATE Feb. 8, 2018: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Tuesday published a proposed amendment to the Record of Decision for the Waste Lake Landfill Superfund site. EPA's preferred method for remediation is "Alternative 4," and the estimated initial cost remains $236 million over 5 years to achieve remedial action objectives (RAOs).
Alternative 4 (the "excavation plus" model proposed by EPA) would take just over 3.5 years to construct, according to the document. In total, the excavation process would remove 67% of radioactivity from the site with an engineered constructed cap sealing in the rest.
The potentially responsible parties (PRPs), including a subsidiary of Republic Services, have already implemented some control methods at the site, including water and soil testing, dealing with subsurface "thermal events" and adding layers to deal with surface brush fires. EPA estimated the annual operations and maintenance cost of the proposed plan to be between $176,000-$389,000.
Already, Bridgeton Landfill LLC (the subsidiary of Republic that’s listed as a PRP) said it will participate in the public comment period, which began Feb. 6 and runs until March 22. Comments can be emailed to the EPA or submitted through the mail. There will be a public meeting March 6 at the District 9 Machinists Hall in Bridgeton, MO.
- Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt announced Thursday the EPA's proposed cleanup and remediation plan for the West Lake Landfill Superfund site in Bridgeton, MO. A detailed notice is expected by next week.
- The proposed 5-year, $236 million plan involves excavating and removing radioactive material that "poses a threat to public health" and then installing a permanent cap. Some radioactive material will remain under the ground in the current plan. EPA is calling the strategy "Excavation Plus."
- Bridgeton Landfill LLC, a potentially responsible party for the site and a subsidiary of Republic Services, said Thursday it will "participate fully during the EPA's comment period, as well as engage vigorously with the EPA and the other PRPs" to ensure a science-based outcome that protects human health.
Republic's subsidiary isn't the only potentially responsible party in West Lake. Cleanup costs are expected to be split between two entities Republic has acquired in recent years, Exelon, which owned a uranium processor and the U.S. Department of Energy.
For residents living near the West Lake site, reaction is split. Some say partial removal is "unacceptable," as it could leave a long-term contamination risk,while others were glad to see any proposed action at all, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Congressman W.M. Lacy Clay, a Democrat from St. Louis MO, called the announcement from EPA "a huge victory for our long-suffering community and a major step towards environmental justice."
The site was added to the Superfund program decades ago, and cleanup plans have stalled since. Efforts gained a special degree of attention in 2010 when a "subsurface smoldering event" was detected just hundreds of yards away from radioactive material. The underground fire is still burning.
During an April 2017 interview on local radio, Pruitt said the EPA had "failed" in its duties and pledged to deliver results, In September 2017, under Pruitt, the EPA held a public meeting to discuss cleanup plans, but offered no firm details.
The proposal also fits neatly into Pruitt's "Back to Basics" strategy at the EPA, focusing on pollution as directed by laws like the Clean Air Act, and attempting to roll-back rulemaking concerning energy use, climate change and other areas. Part of that strategy was convening a Superfund task force and compiling a list of sites that could most benefit from Pruitt's direct intervention.
Ultimately, the West Lake site did appear on Pruitt's list of 21 Superfund sites for "immediate, intense action." What is yet unclear is how those sites were chosen and what placement on that list truly means, as the agency said repeatedly it is not a guarantee of more funding.
In correspondence with Congress and in testimony, the EPA has not yet offered much clarity in understanding how those sites were chosen or what the administrator's role will be. EPA's announcement indicating the release of a cleanup proposal for West Lake did not clearly indicate what level of involvement Pruitt had in developing a proposal, or what role he may have in negotiating with the community and potentially responsible parties.