ST. LOUIS • The operator of the West Lake Landfill is suing Mallinckrodt LLC to pay part of the Environmental Protection Agency’s ordered $205 million cleanup of the site.
Bridgeton Landfill LLC, a subsidiary of Republic Services, filed suit Tuesday in the U.S. District Court of Eastern Missouri against the drug manufacturer, which has operations in Hazelwood.
Mallinckrodt’s predecessor, Mallinckrodt Chemical Works, processed uranium at its factory in St. Louis that was used in the U.S. government’s Manhattan Project, the World War II-era program that produced the first nuclear weapons.
“Mallinckrodt, a prime participant in the war effort that led to the contamination of West Lake Landfill, belongs at this table. We have asked a federal court to include them,” said Richard Callow, a spokesman for Bridgeton Landfill.
In 1973, about 8,700 tons of leached barium sulfate from the weapons program was “mixed with approximately 38,000 tons of contaminated soil and used to cover trash being dumped” at the landfill, according to the EPA. The EPA declared West Lake a Superfund site in 1990.
The suit filed Tuesday does not specify a dollar amount Bridgeton Landfill seeks, but it notes that the company “has already expended to address the contamination contributed to the West Lake Site by Mallinckrodt.”
The landfill operator was one of three entities formally identified by the EPA as a “potentially responsible party” by the time the agency settled on a cleanup strategy in late September. Mallinckrodt was not among them.
The $205 million remedy calls for excavating about 70 percent of the landfill’s Manhattan Project-era radioactivity and disposing of it out of state. The decision was reached after years of debate and anticipation amid escalating frustration from the surrounding community.
Some of the entities that will ultimately have to pay for the cleanup criticized the EPA’s decision as “arbitrary and capricious.” In addition to Republic Services and Bridgeton Landfill, the EPA named as potentially responsible parties the U.S. Department of Energy and Chicago-based Exelon Corp., whose subsidiary, ComEd, formerly owned the uranium processor, Cotter Corp., whose contractor illegally dumped radioactive waste at West Lake in 1973.
Bridgeton and Cotter expressed preference for an EPA decision in 2008 that called for leaving contaminants in place and capping the site. The three parties had agreed to split the estimated $75 million cost, before the decision was abandoned amid public criticism.
After the September decision, EPA officials said potentially responsible parties would have to decide among themselves how to split up the cost.
The groups have little legal ground to challenge the EPA; experts have said laws were written to avoid litigation that would delay cleanup efforts. Groups liable for covering cleanup costs could face significant penalties if they challenge the EPA’s decision and lose.
Bridgeton Landfill provided notice of the suit to the office of acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler and U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
The suit says Mallinckrodt should have to pay the costs Bridgeton Landfill has incurred and will incur during the cleanup, including interest, in addition to attorneys’ fees. It also seeks a declaratory judgment that the drug manufacturer is liable for future response costs or damages.
When it was Mallinckrodt Chemical Works, the company refined uranium compounds at its factory north of downtown St. Louis from 1946 to 1957, according to the suit. The hazardous materials were stored at the St. Louis Airport Storage Site until 1966, when they were moved by truck to a storage site in Hazelwood known as the “Latty Avenue Site,” and then to West Lake.
William Beck, an attorney for Bridgeton Landfill, has said the company spent more than $242 million to control odors and environmental remediation and site improvement costs. Beck also said the company spent about $6.4 million to pay more than 1,000 individual claims against the landfill.
In February, Bridgeton Landfill agreed to pay $16 million to settle a 2013 lawsuit by the Missouri attorney general claiming a “subsurface reaction” was harming nearby residents’ health prompted by complaints from people living near the fire.
The suit also seeks for Mallinckrodt to pay for costs incurred by Bridgeton Landfill to prevent a smoldering underground fire a couple hundred yards away at the adjacent Bridgeton Landfill from reaching the radioactive contamination at West Lake.
Although Mallinckrodt was not identified by the EPA as a potentially responsible party in the West Lake cleanup, the company has been named in up to more than 140 federal lawsuits filed since 2012 on behalf of north St. Louis County residents and heirs who claimed exposure to radioactive waste caused cancers and deaths.
The Associated Press and Bryce Gray of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.