BRIDGETON • One after another, dozens of north St. Louis County residents issued resounding calls for full excavation of the contents of West Lake Landfill and relocation of nearby residents, as the Environmental Protection Agency approaches a cleanup decision for the Superfund site where radioactive waste has languished for decades.
The long string of speakers shared personal experiences — often recounting health complications suffered by loved ones — and voiced strong opinions at Thursday night’s “community listening session.”
Their pleas for the maximally protective cleanup of the site were made to top-ranking EPA officials who attended the meeting along with more than 100 members of the public.
In the coming months, the agency is set to select a method for the site’s remediation.
Options include full or partial excavation of the landfill’s contents, or capping the site while leaving the contents in place — a method originally chosen in 2008 before the decision was revisited through an ongoing, yearslong reassessment process. Capping remains the preferred cleanup approach of some entities liable for the costs of the site’s remediation, such as the landfill operator, Republic Services.
But residents and others at the meeting overwhelmingly indicated that only full removal of the waste at West Lake will satisfy them.
“Choosing to leave this material in an unlined landfill in the Missouri River flood plain is just as bad an idea as it was to dump it there in the first place,” said Ed Smith, policy director for the Missouri Coalition for the Environment.
Many speakers expressed that buyouts or some form of assisted relocation should be offered to nearby residents who they believe have their health at risk now, or will during the eventual cleanup process.
“There’s nothing you can do at this site that doesn’t involve digging,” said Meagan Beckermann, another speaker and a North County resident. “We need relocation and excavation.”
The overtures were made to the EPA’s Acting Regional Administrator, Cathy Stepp, and Albert Kelly, a top adviser to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and chair of the agency’s Superfund Task Force.
Though intended primarily as a listening session, Stepp and Kelly addressed the crowd at a few points, with Kelly saying that testing for radioactive contamination would occur in additional areas of the landfill that remain of concern to the public.
More than anything, he promised action where the agency has failed to act in the past.
“You have no reason to believe us tonight. You have every reason to doubt us,” he said. “You’ll have to judge us by our action.
“We accept the challenge of fixing this and getting it done right,” he added.