West Lake Landfill, just a stone’s throw from my house, is the only radioactive dump site left in St. Louis from the 40s and 50s, when Mallinckrodt Chemical was burying its time bombs all over the city and county. The others have either been cleaned up or are being cleaned up. But not this one, not the one that is, for god’s sake, on a FLOODPLAIN!
Kay Drey, a longtime anti-nuclear activist, told me her husband Leo’s droll observation about the West Lake site on the Missouri river floodplain: “I don’t know why you’re so worried about it being on the floodplain, Kay. It won’t stay there long.” No kidding, because the Missouri is “one of the most powerful, flood-prone rivers in the world”, and in St. Louis County, several levees have failed in the last fifteen years.
But just in case the levee doesn’t break any time soon and spill all that waste over parts of North St. Louis County, the EPA–with Claire McCaskill’s blessing, I might add–is thinking of doing what it can to increase the chances of spreading radioactive pollution. The plan is to rip out the foliage covering the illegally dumped waste and add a pile of rocks on top. What a ridiculous solution. Consider:
- that ripping out roots creates hundreds or thousands of tiny funnels in the soil through which radioactive gases–and this waste is extremely hot–can seep.
- that driving trucks of rock over the area will further destabilize the ground.
- that strewing the top with rocks does nothing to protect the groundwater below the radioactive waste from seepage. Indeed, some of the waste is twenty feet down and the fluctuating water table already comes into contact with it. Then that water flows eight miles downstream to the North County water treatment plant in Florissant and to the Chain of Rocks water intake for the city of St. Louis.
- that the rocks that would be thrown on top would also become contaminated, so that if real cleanup ever occurred, they, too, would have to be moved.
Protecting us by dumping rock on the site is like leaving your toddler with a bad tempered drunk for a couple of hours. The child might come out of it unscathed or he might end up worse off than if you’d left him by himself. But neither course would be a sane alternative.
And neither course–ignoring the site or dumping rock on it–is a rational choice. The EPA is supposed to be in the business of protecting the environment, and it doesn’t accomplish that when it leaves extremely hot radioactive waste in the path of a bad tempered, drunken river. West Lake should be cleaned up like the other hot sites in St. Louis:
The wastes can and should be safely excavated under a temporary structure (a negative pressure building that filters the air) and moved to a licensed radioactive waste disposal facility, away from water and away from people.
The EPA is taking public comments on the plan now, and the Coalition for the Environment is urging people to write or call their congressmen about it: