ST. LOUIS (AP) — Radioactive material buried near an underground fire at a suburban St. Louis landfill has been found in areas where it was previously not suspected, but there is no increased health risk to residents or workers, Environmental Protection Agency officials said Thursday.
The EPA released the first phase report of an investigation of the West Lake Landfill in Bridgeton where nuclear waste dating to the Manhattan Project was illegally dumpedin the 1970s. Adding to the concern is the fact that an underground fire is smoldering at the adjacent Bridgeton Landfill.
The investigation found “radiologically impacted material” in “areas of the landfill not identified during previous site investigations,” but not present in areas previously presumed to contain it, the EPA said.
“It is further south than historically identified,” Brad Vann, remedial project manager for the EPA, said during a teleconference. He added that health risks associated with the site are unchanged for both nearby residents and on-site workers. No reports of illness have been linked to the nuclear waste.
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In December, the EPA ordered installation of an isolation barrier to make sure that the underground fire — the cause of which is unknown — does not reach the nuclear waste. The report noted that the fire remains “hundreds of feet” away from the radioactive material, which Vann called a “key piece” that will help guide placement of the barrier.
Richard Callow, a spokesman for Republic Services, which owns both landfills, noted that the EPA report found no evidence that the waste is threatened by the fire, or that the fire is moving into West Lake Landfill. “And it has found no new risks to health,” Callow said, calling the findings a “good and important step.”
Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster said the report “confirms that EPA has never had a clear picture of the extent of contamination at the West Lake landfill, and it is deeply concerning that it took EPA so long to figure that out.”
West Lake was declared a Superfund site in 1990. In 2008, the EPA announced a remediation plan to cap the nuclear waste with rock, clay and soil, but it drew enough opposition that the EPA reconsidered. The agency has not yet announced a new plan despite criticism from Koster, some lawmakers and residents who feel the agency is moving too slowly. A remediation decision is expected by the end of the year.
“It is long past time for the federal government to transfer responsibility of the site to the Army Corps for swift and certain remedial action,” Koster said in a statement.
Ed Smith of the Missouri Coalition for the Environment said the EPA needs to remove the radioactive waste, and soon. He said the proximity of the waste to the fire remains a big concern.
“Without testing the entire area between the smoldering fire and the radioactive wastes, the EPA cannot say with any confidence the distance that separates these two problems,” Smith said.