Messenger: Activist won’t back down in quest to rid St. Louis of nuclear waste via St. Louis Post Dispatch


We’re in her dining room to talk about West Lake Landfill and the nuclear waste that was dumped there illegally decades ago. The radioactive waste dates to the production of the first atomic bomb, a double-edged sword of a legacy for St. Louis. The city is proud of its efforts to end World War II but still dealing with the remnants of that effort in the next century.


She quotes two old Nuclear Regulatory Commission reports, one from 1982 and the other from 1988, that outline how “hot” the waste is in West Lake and call for some sort of “remedial action.” She quotes one of the foremost flooding experts in the region, Bob Criss from Washington University, who said, “This is the wrong place to store hazardous material. It does not belong in a flood plain.”

Nobody who read Drey’s words from a decade ago would have been surprised by the release this week of a secret EPA report that reached similar conclusions.

The report, internal findings by EPA scientists that had been kept secret since 2013, concluded that it was feasible to remove the nuclear waste from West Lake. The scientists also found that doing so would reduce long-term risks.


The U.S. Senate passed a bill this year to carry out Drey’s preferred solution — have the Corps of Engineers take over the project and clean it up. But the measure appears to be dead in the House. Here’s what lawmakers need to know about Drey:

She’s not giving up.

All through her house are pictures of sloths. Paintings, drawings, stuffed animals. Drey says she likes them because at her age, she moves pretty slowly. According to her notes — and I wouldn’t suggest arguing with her research — sloths move about 420 feet in a day, at most.

In a lifetime of activism — for civil rights, against nuclear war, to protect the environment — Drey has often found that success is hard to come by. But she keeps moving, slowly, but forward. Twenty years ago, she was on hand as the director of the Department of Energy came to St. Louis and promised all the nuclear waste in the region would be cleaned up and shipped out. At the time, she had already been working on the issue for almost 20 years.

The waste — some of it, at least — is still here, and Drey is still working.

“We need to get both houses of Congress to say they’re going to clean it up,” Drey says. “It just can’t stay there.”

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