The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 7 released an internal review of the West Lake Landfill on June 15, 2016; more than two years after MCE was denied the document following a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request in early 2014.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been in charge of the West Lake Landfill since 1990, when the site was designated Superfund. In 2008, the EPA released its Record of Decision (ROD), choosing to cap and leave the radioactive waste. However, the community strongly opposed this decision, which led the EPA to put the decision on hold so that it could do further research and re-evaluate its decision. Eight years later, this decision is still under review, though EPA Region 7 plans to release a proposed remedy by the end of the year followed by a public comment period.
On February 28, 2013, the National Remedy Review Board (NRRB), which is a group of experts within the EPA that reviews and comments on Superfund remedy decisions, sent their recommendations and comments on the 2008 Record of Decision (ROD) and post-ROD documents to EPA Region 7. Region 7 cited a recent “community request” at a public meeting as their reason for releasing this review while failing to recognize MCE’s FOIA request or previous community requests for the document.
The NRRB review criticized Regions 7’s decision to cap and leave the radioactive waste in the West Lake Landfill. The NRRB review suggests that the removal of the radioactive wastes at the West Lake Landfill is both feasible, as removal is taking place in sites across the country, and less risky long term and expensive than EPA Region 7 projected in the 2008 ROD. The NRRB also believes that the cost of the cap and leave remedy selected by Region 7 was underestimated as the EPA did not account for maintenance and repair costs of the cap in the long term.
EPA Region 7 has wasted the time of the community, elected officials, and other civic institutions like the school districts and emergency responders by waiting over three years to release a document that sheds significant light on the possibility and feasibility for removal. If the EPA had begun working towards a plan for removal of the radioactive wastes two years ago as suggested by MCE, rather than pursue a barrier system between the radioactivity and subsurface smoldering event in the adjacent Bridgeton Landfill, much more progress could have been made by now to ensure the safety of the community.
The release of this internal review by EPA Region 7 prompted MCE to submit another FOIA request on June 17, 2016, which resulted in the release of the presentation that EPA Region 7 gave to the NRRB before the internal review was conducted. The other documents requested in this FOIA request have not yet been released.
The EPA has mishandled the West Lake Landfill since it gained jurisdiction of the site in 1990. It is time to transfer the West Lake Landfill to the US Army Corps of Engineers, which is currently safely removing radioactive material all over north St. Louis County. The bipartisan legislation unanimously passed the Senate in February and is waiting for approval from House Energy & Commerce committee as well as the entire U.S. House of Representatives.