Updated at 6:45 p.m. with more details
In a revelation that could shake up oversight and liability at the contaminated West Lake Landfill, one of the companies involved says some of the radioactive waste may have come from sources officials have yet to acknowledge.
“There’s some evidence that there could be other waste streams there,” said Craig Nesbit, a spokesman for Exelon Generation.
He said Exelon supports “proposed science-based efforts to understand all historical radiological material placed in the West Lake landfill.”
The news has already spurred the St. Louis area’s congressional delegation to call for a new review to determine whether the site should be added to a special nuclear cleanup program. In a letter to the Department of Energy, they indicated some of the waste may have been under the DOE’s jurisdiction.
Neighbors of the Bridgeton-area landfill have long said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Formerly Utilized Sites Remedial Action Program, or FUSRAP, is better suited to force a cleanup. The corps is cleaning up several other sites around the region contaminated from Mallinckrodt Chemical Works’ uranium processing work for the government during the Manhattan Project.
Right now, the West Lake Landfill is under the Environmental Protection Agency’s jurisdiction as a Superfund site, and neighbors have long been impatient with the pace of action.
Chicago-based nuclear power and utility giant Exelon is one of three entities potentially liable for the West Lake Landfill cleanup. Exelon retained liability from Cotter Corp., a Denver-area uranium producer now owned by General Atomics in San Diego. A contractor for Cotter, B&K Construction, illegally dumped radioactive waste in West Lake in 1973, a year before Exelon owned cotter.
“Technically, it’s their deal,” Nesbit said of Cotter. “We just have to write the check at the end of the day.”
Phoenix-based waste hauler Republic Services currently owns the landfill, and it has taken the lead on much of the monitoring at the site. It also has been the company managing a smoldering underground fire that broke out in the adjacent Bridgeton Landfill, which some worry could spread to the contaminated area of West Lake.
The DOE is the other potentially responsible party.
In May, the EPA approved a new round of on-site testing at the landfill to better characterize the waste dumped there. Critics of the cleanup effort have questioned the government’s official record of what was actually dumped in Bridgeton 40 years ago, warning it could be much worse.
But the new information didn’t come from the on-site testing, Exelon’s Nesbit said. He said Cotter found some evidence looking at old shipping receipts, among other documents.
“It’s more document-oriented than it is an analysis of soils,” Nesbit said.
Nesbit emphasized that Cotter’s contractors will need to verify the information with testing at West Lake. “The question right now is what is it and does it have any environmental impact?”
He added there’s no indication now that it does have an environmental impact.
Nesbit referred specific questions on the type, location and source of the possible waste to Cotter, which did not immediately have a representative available to speak about the issue.
The presence of new waste could justify shifting oversight of the contaminated West Lake Landfill from the EPA to the corps’ FUSRAP, the St. Louis area’s Congressional delegation said in a Friday letter to DOE Secretary Ernest Moniz.
“We understand that in making its initial determination, that the West Lake site did not qualify for inclusion in the (FUSRAP), DOE relied upon the fact that an intermediate commercial entity, Cotter Corporation, had purchased the radiological material that was placed at the West Lake and that therefore it had not been under the direct control of DOE or its precursors,” the letter states.
The letter from Missouri’s two senators, Republican Roy Blunt and Democrat Claire McCaskill, and U.S. Reps. William Lacy Clay, D-St. Louis, and Ann Wagner, R-Ballwin, goes on to say that new waste from non-Cotter sources “may be present” at West Lake and Bridgeton landfills. Some of it may be “material that was possibly under the jurisdiction of DOE and its precursors when it was” dumped.
“Should such material in fact be present, a renewed inquiry into the sites (sic) inclusion in the FUSRAP would be merited,” the letter says.
The DOE declined to comment.
Representatives from the Congressional offices said they had no further details or did not respond to Post-Dispatch inquiries for more information about the waste.
The EPA declined to comment beyond an emailed statement: “If any party has credible scientific information about material in the landfill that can be independently and scientifically verified, EPA will welcome the opportunity to review it.”
EPA has promised to issue a plan around the end of 2016, before the agency’s top ranks are shaken up by a new presidential administration. In 2008, it recommended capping the waste, but outcry from residents who wanted it removed sent it back to the drawing board.
West Lake was never included in FUSRAP, originally a DOE program that is now operated by the corps. Instead, it was put under EPA jurisdiction in 1990. Nearby residents complain the EPA process doesn’t have enough teeth and that they’ve been waiting for EPA to act for 25 years.
“I’m very encouraged,” said Dawn Chapman, one of the local activists who has long followed the issue. “I think we’re going to get this moved to FUSRAP.”
Republic seemed to suggest such a move would slow the process. The potentially responsible parties “have complied with every EPA study request for decades” Republic Services spokesman Richard Callow said in a statement.
“To start the process over just because a few people don’t like the answer science provides seems a waste and unreasonable as a delay,” he said. Callow declined to comment further.