EPA reaches cleanup decision for radioactive West Lake Landfill Superfund site via St. Louis-Post Dispatch

After years of bureaucratic inaction and escalating frustration and concern from the surrounding community, the Environmental Protection Agency has finally settled on a strategy to clean up the radioactive waste at the West Lake Landfill Superfund site in Bridgeton.


That proposal called for excavation to a depth of 16 feet across the site, which agency officials said would remove the bulk of the site’s radioactivity. Now, however, excavation depth will vary between 8 feet and 20 feet below the landfill’s surface.

“We’re going to have more flexibility as we excavate,” Wheeler said Wednesday in a phone interview with the Post-Dispatch. “In some areas, it will be as deep as 20 feet or perhaps as shallow as 8 feet. We’re going to decrease the amount of nonradioactive waste that needs to be removed from the site and focus our efforts on the radioactive waste.”

Agency officials said about 70 percent of the radioactivity at the site would be removed. They said radioactivity that remains in the unlined landfill will be at a depth where it is not expected to pose public health risks, and that groundwater will be monitored going forward.


The cleanup process is estimated to take about four and a half years to complete. About 18 months will be spent in a “design phase,” while excavation and landfill cover construction is expected to take three years. The agency said it does not have a precise time frame but aims to begin the design phase “as soon as possible” and that it “will make every effort to get an enforceable agreement in place to fund and perform the design.”

The contamination removed from the site will be sent to an out-of-state site for disposal. EPA officials said that licensed facilities in Utah, Idaho, Michigan and Colorado were under consideration.

Wheeler emphasized that on-site and off-site safety would be priorities throughout the cleanup process. Considerations ranged from controlling dust to repelling birds from the open landfill.


Radioactive waste stemming from the Manhattan Project in World War II was illegally dumped at the landfill in the 1970s. Although the site was added to the EPA Superfund program’s National Priorities List in 1990, it has languished for decades without the start of any remediation work.

Public scrutiny and concern about the site has exploded since 2010, when an underground fire — called a “subsurface smoldering event” by officials — was detected in the adjacent Bridgeton Landfill. The fire has come to within several hundred yards of known radioactive contamination at West Lake, and has been slowed by an engineered cooling system that runs pipes into the landfill.

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