The Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday ordered a long-awaited cleanup of a Superfund site northwest of St. Louis, saying residents living near the landfill contaminated with World War II-era nuclear waste deserve action after waiting 27 years for federal regulators to issue a decision.
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s decision to partially excavate tons of radioactive material from the West Lake Landfill over five years — at an expected cost of $236 million to the liable companies — goes beyond a 2008 solution proposed by the George W. Bush administration to cover and monitor the waste.
“The people of the St. Louis region deserve clarity and answers,” Pruitt said in a statement Thursday. “I promised them an answer, and today I am making good on that commitment.” He added that he sought a remedy at the site that would “protect public health, comply with the law, and hold potentially responsible parties accountable.”
Thursday’s announcement also was intended to be Exhibit A in demonstrating Pruitt’s commitment to revitalizing the agency’s Superfund program, which includes the nation’s most polluted sites, by streamlining and accelerating cleanups. But it underscored how few Superfund sites have simple answers, though nearly all of them generate intense emotions.
“We were hoping for full, 100 percent excavation. But we know that would be difficult to accomplish,” said Dawn Chapman, a founder of Just Moms STL, an activist group that has long pushed for an extensive excavation with relocation of families near the landfill.
Chapman said her group views the outcome as a hard-fought victory but one that is far from guaranteed, given the public-comment and cleanup process likely to unfold over years. “We have to stay here and watch it and see it through,” she said. “I look ahead, and I see these other big battles coming. We’re not going to blink because you can’t. … We will continue to fight to get even more [radioactive waste] removed.”
Pruitt’s decision goes further than the action sought by Republic Services and Exelon, whose subsidiaries are responsible for the cleanup at West Lake along with the federal Department of Energy. The companies have argued that the agency’s own science shows capping the waste is the safer option and that excavating the toxic material could create serious public health risks.
While the $236 million price tag of the EPA plan is significantly higher than what the firms hoped to spend, it is well below the cost, projected at nearly $700 million, of a full excavation.
In a statement, Republic Services said it was “pleased that the EPA has finally ended decades of study and again is issuing a proposed plan for the site.” But the company cautioned that a final decision could take years.
What remains to be seen is whether the decision on West Lake represents how Pruitt is likely to approach other Superfund sites.
To read the full story, visit https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2018/02/01/epa-orders-cleanup-at-st-louis-nuclear-waste-site-what-does-it-mean-for-the-nations-other-toxic-messes/?utm_term=.4a1673a6dbaa