SierraScape April - May 2010
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by Ginger Harris
Transportation and Smart Growth Committee Chair
While we're discussing what shouldn't be in a floodplain, here's something else that shouldn't be there: illegally dumped radioactive waste from Mallinckrodt's processing of extremely "hot" Belgian Congo uranium for the US's first atomic bomb.
This radioactive waste is sitting behind the Earth City levee in the Missouri River floodplain of St. Louis County, 8.5 miles upstream of the drinking water intake that serves all of North St. Louis County north of Interstate 70. This radioactive site is 32 miles upstream of St. Louis City's primary drinking water intake (Chain of Rocks waterworks).
If the levee around Chesterfield Valley had not breached in 1993 and absorbed a huge amount of that flood's force, the 1993 flood would have likely breached the Earth City levee around West Lake Landfill. Since 1993, Chesterfield Valley's levee has been rebuilt and heightened to protect industry and commerce that "flooded" into the valley after 1993 on the promise of a better levee. More recently, the next levee downstream, Howard Bend Levee, has been rebuilt and heightened in order to attract urban development to that floodplain. This means Chesterfield's and Howard Bend's levees are not likely to be the first ones to fail with the next big flood. Instead, the older Riverport and Earth City levees are likely to be the ones that will fail first. Meanwhile, contaminated groundwater from this landfill is seeping into the Missouri River.
Since these radioactive wastes are left over from fuel prepared by Mallinckrodt for atomic bombs (not for nuclear energy), they are ultimately the responsibility of the federal government. The US Dept of Energy began cleaning up associated radioactive sites in St. Louis, then turned that work over to the Army Corps of Engineers (ACoE), which has several more years of work to finish clean-up in St. Louis. However, as an illegal radioactive dump site, West Lake Landfill became a Superfund site under the jurisdiction of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
With Superfund money dwindling, in June 2009 the EPA issued a Record of Decision (RoD) to leave West Lake's radioactive wastes on-site, with no liner underneath, and merely construction rubble and clay on top. The ACoE has done a much more thorough job of cleaning up the other radioactive sites in St. Louis. We feel the ACoE has the expertise and track record to properly clean up West Lake Landfill. But the transfer of authority should occur now, before the ACoE wraps up its other clean-up work in St. Louis.
St. Louis County Council and St. Louis City's Board of Aldermen have passed resolutions asking EPA to transfer this job to the ACoE for removal of this waste from the floodplain. The Mayor of Florissant has made a similar request. We need you to do likewise, by talking with your municipal officials, St. Louis County Executive Dooley, Mayor Slay, and members of Congress. Ask them to transfer jurisdiction over the West Lake radioactive site to the ACoE and to have this waste removed from the floodplain and transported to a federally licensed site away from water and away from people.
Please don't accept responses such as "we've got to have nuclear energy for baseload power in this country." That statement is beside the point. West Lake's radioactive waste is from production of nuclear weapons, which is a federal government activity, not a local commercial activity.
If you would like details on just how hot these wastes still are, please contact Ginger Harris at email@example.com.