- - Monday, September 24, 2018


For Americans near the West Lake Landfill, an old quarry outside of St. Louis, Missouri area, life has continued as uneventfully as can be reasonably expected considering its history as a landfill that what used illegally as dumping site for leftover Manhattan Project waste.

Back in the 1970s, it was contaminated with radioactive material when a contractor dumped waste that was left over from the Manhattan project at the site. Finger pointing and blame shifting about what exactly happened and who has liability and jurisdiction on the matter has continued for decades.

According to a 1992 memo, the Department of Energy argued it had no “liability or responsibility” for West Lake and called the waste dumping “a license violation” that “would not have been authorized if licensing approval had been sought.” West Lake would eventually be named a Superfund site by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1990 and in the time since, bureaucrats have been attempting to come up with a cleanup plan for it.

Legalities regarding the execution of the dumping aside, according to testing methods approved by the EPA, soil sample, plant sample, and air quality tests have failed to show any elevated levels of radiation.

A seemingly reasonable plan that was approved by the Bush EPA intended to cap the waste at the site since it is generally accepted that the radiological material is buried deep enough underground to not pose any known risks to the community if it was to be further secured.

This has not stopped some union-linked activists from attempting to pressure the EPA for a dangerous and costly full excavation of the site. Just Moms STL, a group that has ties to the Teamsters, was able to successfully lobby former EPA head Scott Pruitt into announcing an “Excavation Plus” remedy for the site. Under this proposal, roughly 70 percent of the radioactive material from the landfill would be excavated and moved elsewhere, exposing the surrounding community to potential radioactive material being released into the air. This poorly thought out solution would also be tantamount to starting a dangerous game of hot potato, as the waste would certainly present a new set of challenges for the area surrounding its new, ultimate dumping site.

If fully executed, this plan would also seek to potentially transport the waste to sites in either Idaho or perhaps the newly-reopened Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) site in New Mexico or somewhere else entirely. The method of transportation that has been discussed for the waste, is to move it by rail. This poses an entire new set of potential complications as, according to the National Transportation Safety Bureau, nearly every 2 hours, a rail accident or derailment occurs somewhere in the United States.

Some of the more recent train accidents and derailments that are relevant to this particular matter include a recent incident that saw more than a dozen tanker cars derailed San Bernardino, California, in August. The derailment of the train headed to Los Angeles, prompted local authorities to evacuate at least one nearby building.

Another scarier and even more sobering example of the downside of executing the EPA’s proposed excavation, was when a train derailment in southwestern Jefferson County, Ohio, caused the release of butadiene, a flammable and colorless gas into the air. The subsequent hazmat declaration led to the closing of a major roadway and necessitated the evacuation of citizens living and working within a one-mile radius of the derailment site.

The butadiene was not the only chemical present aboard the train. Hydrochloride, sodium hydroxide, calcium carbide, and methyl isobutyl ketone were also on the train, but luckily none of them are known to have been leaking.

Lobbyists and bureaucrats always seem to work in concert to find the most difficult, costly and inefficient way to solve problems. Acting EPA Chief Andrew Wheeler should look at the previously approved “cap” plan as well as the scientific data and ignore the union influenced lobbyists looking for a toxic payday.

• Julio Rivera, editorial director at ReactionaryTimes.com, is a small-business consultant based in New York City.

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