Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Editorial: Corps of Engineers Should FUSRAP-Up West Lake's Toxic Waste

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Editorial: Corps of Engineers Should FUSRAP-Up West Lake's Toxic Waste

Article excerpt

The best solution for cleaning up radioactive waste buried at the West Lake Landfill in Bridgeton is to give control of the site to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The corps runs the tongue-twistingly named Formerly Utilized Sites Remedial Action Program (FUSRAP), which controls every other site in St. Louis County that is contaminated with nuclear waste. The radioactive waste in Bridgeton came from another location that is now a FUSRAP site.

At those other sites, the Corps has either cleaned up the waste or is in the process of doing it. Some of the waste at those sites was the waste that has been at West Lake, which became a dump site in the 1950s. Radioactive materials, created as a byproduct of projects at Mallinckrodt Chemical Works, were dumped in a 200-acre hole there beginning in 1973.

Four years after that, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission investigated the site and published a report. The Environmental Protection Agency designated West Lake as a Superfund site in 1990, making it eligible for special federal funding to clean up the nation's most hazardous waste sites.

The EPA has had control of the site for 25 years, but nothing has been removed. Not far away, another part of the landfill is burning. Euphemistically, the below-ground fire is called an SSE, a "subsurface smoldering event," by the EPA and Republic Services, the Phoenix-based waste hauler that owns the site. In the presence of oxygen, the SSE would become a fire.

Should the burn reach the radioactive material, bad things would happen. The EPA says that's unlikely, as "all current data suggest the SSE remains distant from the areas containing known RIM (radiologically impacted material)." We must hope the EPA is more accurate than it is fast-acting.

The EPA has killed a lot of trees ordering study after study of the contaminated landfill and explaining why gathering data and performing evaluations is better than taking action. Activists have speculated that maintaining the Superfund site provides job security for EPA bureaucrats in Region 7 (headquartered in Kansas City and overseeing four Midwest states).

The corps FUSRAP program often digs up and disposes of waste at sites it controls. The prospect that it would do that at West Lake raises both hope and concern. Hope, because it would be a final remedy. It would end such environmental worries as radioactive runoff seeping into groundwater and escaping radon and radium gases, the daughter products from uranium decay, which can cause cancer if inhaled or ingested.

Concern, because no matter how precise and careful an excavation may be, it will cause corollary problems.

The primary problem is expense. The budget for all FUSRAP sites around the country is in the neighborhood of $100 million, and there already are other projects waiting to be put on the FUSRAP agenda. …

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