Companies have been dumping waste at the West Lake Landfill in Bridgeton since the 1950s. Radioactive materials, created as a byproduct of Mallinckrodt Chemical Works, were dumped in a 200-acre hole there beginning in 1973.
So the fact that there are problems at the landfill shouldn’t be a surprise. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission investigated the site and published a report in 1977. The Environmental Protection Agency designated it a Superfund site in 1990, making it eligible for special federal funding to clean up the nation’s most hazardous waste sites.
In 2008 — 18 years after the Superfund designation — the EPA leaped into action. The agency announced plans to cover 40 acres of the site, the part determined to be contaminated with nuclear waste, and to require more control and monitoring. The EPA, the guardians of the nation’s environment, had to be pushed by environmental activists and concerned people from the community, into asking the companies that might have been responsible for the problem to come up with alternative cleaning options.
You would think the EPA wouldn’t have to be pushed. You would think the people who contaminated the site wouldn’t have to be “asked.” You would think they could be “ordered.” You would be wrong.
The West Lake Landfill is the only site in the country contaminated with nuclear waste that is not under the control of FUSRAP. The radioactive waste in Bridgeton came from a place that is now a FUSRAP site.
Here’s why the Corps of Engineers is a better idea: FUSRAP doesn’t have to ask the companies that will pay for a cleanup if a site needs it. If the corps determines that the site needs cleaning, it does it and then negotiates for payment with the parties responsible for the environmental hazard.
Under the EPA’s Superfund program, the financially responsible parties are largely in charge of site studies and of the final recommendation. If they disagree with the EPA’s remedy or consider the cost unreasonable — and not surprisingly, they often do — they can sue to keep from cleaning up the site.
Read more at Editorial: Let the cleanup begin