02 February 19
For those living near Superfund sites, the shutdown fueled fears that the EPA isn’t able to respond in an emergency.
hree months after the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approved a cleanup plan for the radioactive waste at the West Lake Landfill in Missouri, a large part of the federal government, including the EPA, shut down its operations. EPA oversight of the West Lake radioactive dump, located in Bridgeton, Missouri, near St. Louis, was officially put on hold on December 29, when agency funding ran out.
Residents of Bridgeton and surrounding communities had been waiting decades for the government to take action. The EPA placed the site on its Superfund National Priorities List 29 years ago — in 1990. But over the next two decades, the EPA mostly ignored the West Lake landfill. That is, until a massive underground fire at an adjacent landfill in Bridgeton was detected in 2010.
Residents and cleanup experts worried about the vicinity of the underground fire; the fire was located only a few hundred yards from the radioactive waste that had been illegally dumped at West Lake more than 45 years ago.
Having an underground fire located so close to a radioactive waste dump had already been causing anxiety among local residents. But then residents’ concerns about the safety of the Superfund site intensified when the government shutdown led to the furlough of EPA employees who were monitoring the West Lake Landfill.
Local and state emergency responders did not the have the ability to handle a major flareup at the West Lake site without the help of the federal government.
“We do have an emergency plan in place, but much of that plan depends on a response from the federal government,” Dawn Chapman, a local resident and co-founder of Just Moms, a group that has been campaigning for the cleanup of the West Lake Landfill, told ThinkProgress. “Nobody at the state or local level has what it would take to respond to an emergency at this site.”
Across the country, residents who live near highly toxic Superfund sites found themselves with similar concerns during the government shutdown. Already facing years or decades of government inaction, residents complained that the shutdown would further delay the EPA’s legal requirement to protect them from the dangerously toxic sites in their hometowns.
Congress passed legislation in 1980 to create the Superfund program in order to clean up areas contaminated with hazardous waste that poses a health risk. There are about 1,340 sites across the nation on the Superfund program’s National Priorities List. When a site is added to the list, it becomes eligible for long-term remedial action financed under the Superfund program.