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EPA says tests show no Manhattan Project radioactive waste in Bridgeton homes

EPA says tests show no Manhattan Project radioactive waste in Bridgeton homes

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Radioactive dust found in home

The home of Robbin and Michael Dailey, located in the 3500 block of El Ferrol Court in Bridgeton, on Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2016. The Daileys are suing companies associated with the West Lake Landfill for damages because radioactivity was found in and around their property. Photo By David Carson, dcarson@post-dispatch.com

The Environmental Protection Agency announced Thursday that test results showed no evidence of radioactive contamination in Bridgeton homes near West Lake Landfill, where Manhattan Project-era waste was dumped decades ago.

The results stand in contrast to a lawsuit filed in November by an area couple, Michael and Robbin Dailey, alleging that elevated levels of contamination found in and around their home matched the signature of the landfill’s radioactive waste.

Two other residences in Bridgeton’s Spanish Village neighborhood were tested by the EPA in December, out of what the agency described as “an abundance of caution.”

“EPA acted quickly in conjunction with the State of Missouri, the Corps of Engineers, and the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), once we learned of the allegation of potential contamination inside a residence in Spanish Village,” EPA Acting Region 7 Administrator Edward Chu said in a statement. “We collected and analyzed over 140 samples, and our evaluation of the data shows no Manhattan Project waste was found in the homes sampled in Spanish Village.”

The agency said that the results signaled that “no further action is needed” at the homes sampled.

The EPA reported that soil samples all showed levels of radioactivity “within normal background ranges” expected to occur naturally. Samples from the interior of homes, meanwhile, were all below the agency’s residential screening thresholds.

Critics, though, say that the EPA’s conclusion lacks credibility for its controversial involvement of Tetra Tech Inc., the consulting and engineering contractor that partnered with the agency to help gather samples.

Tetra Tech counts Republic Services, the waste hauling company that owns West Lake and Bridgeton landfills, among its clients. That represents a conflict of interest, critics say, because Republic is one of the parties ultimately responsible for covering cleanup costs associated with the site.

Tetra Tech was also found to have falsified similar testing conducted in California.

“It’s not surprising that Republic’s consultants would come up with this result,” said Winston Calvert, a spokesman for Hausfeld, the Washington law firm representing the Daileys. The firm has conducted testing of other homes in the area, and says that at least four additional residences also show elevated levels of radioactive contamination.

Dawn Chapman, co-founder of Just Moms STL, a group focused on landfill issues, characterized the reaction of area activists as “one big eye roll heard across St. Louis.”

“I don’t think places expected anything different,” Chapman said of the EPA’s announcement.

The EPA, however, said both the sampling plan and analysis followed legitimate standards developed alongside several other agencies, including the Army Corps of Engineers and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources.

The agency noted that Tetra Tech never worked independently from EPA staff and was not involved with laboratory analysis of the samples.

Republic welcomed the results announced by the EPA.

“This will give the community a chance to choose between the findings of trial attorneys and scientists,” said Russ Knocke, the company’s vice president of communications and public affairs, in a statement.

For years, the landfill has been at the center of vocal political fights, including pushes for the government to buy out nearby homes and for management of the site’s cleanup to be transferred to the Corps of Engineers.

The EPA, however, wants to retain oversight. In a recent interview with radio host Hugh Hewitt, new EPA director Scott Pruitt mentioned West Lake as a prominent example of Superfund remediation the agency should prioritize as part of his “Back to Basics” agenda for the agency. That plan would reduce emphasis on regulation of pollutants such as carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

“It’s unacceptable for the West Lake facility in St. Louis, Mo., to languish on a national priority list for 20-plus years,” Pruitt said.

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