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Weldon Spring Site Interpretive Center

Joe Hansen, 78, of University City takes in the view near the top of the Weldon Spring Disposal Cell during a visit with his church group Monday in St. Charles County. "It almost brings a tear to my eye," Hansen says, who was a metal engineer at the Weldon Springs Site from 1958 to 1966. "We had a pretty good time here." The disposal cell, part of the Weldon Spring Site Interpretive Center, covers about 45 acres and provides isolation of chemically and radioactively contaminated waste material. 2005 PHOTO BY HUY RICHARD MACH/PD

The many Manhattan Project residual wastes in St. Louis resulted from a very high-quality Belgian Congo ore, 60 times more radioactive than any other location on earth. The Environmental Protection Agency’s preferred alternative at the West Lake Landfill is to remove radioactive soil only to a depth 16 feet and leave the rest in the unlined, rock quarry. All radioactive wastes should be removed. I liked the illustration: “It would be as if a neighbor’s dog pooped on your carpet and only cleaned up a part and put a cover over the rest.”

The West Lake Landfill is hydrologically connected to the migrating ground, surface and flood waters of the Missouri River flood plain, and the wastes have been migrating for years. The EPA continues to give in to the responsible parties’ pressure to delay and reduce costs. The cost difference between complete removal to a geologically stable site away from the flood plain, which all 1,000 attendees wanted during a recent public meeting, and the partial removal is only a drop in the bucket for these wealthy corporations. The public also asked, unanimously, for a buyout to be done to help reduce the health risks and financial losses to those near the site.

Wastes from the Weldon Spring Quarry in St. Charles County were completely removed and later placed in the disposal cell at the chemical plant site — done largely to help protect the Weldon Spring well field. Only the quarterly and annual groundwater monitoring plan results give some assurance that the water quality is reasonable supplying the water district. We are seeing a gradual increase in low-level uranium and a somewhat alarming, periodic, increasing levels of arsenic.

Years ago, I was the president of a local citizen group, much like Just Moms STL, named St. Charles Countians Against Hazardous Waste. Moms who had children at Francis Howell High School, a half-mile down wind of the chemical plant, pressured the Department of Energy to insure the Weldon Spring site was first properly characterized then adequately remediated for the public health benefit of the community.

Complete source removal should be done at West Lake, to a more geologically stable, dry site. But it seems to me that the EPA is realistically considering placing a second disposal cell somewhere on the same site. This would be a cheap, very poor idea and unfortunately, it was also done at the Weldon Springs site.

All the quarry wastes, along with the dinitrotolnene and uranium wastes from the chemical plant, were placed in the disposal cell located in the same relative area of the present contamination from the chemical plant, over the karst, solution-filled limestone. At this time, the Department of Energy, EPA and Missouri Department of Natural Resources are dealing with deep residual uranium deposits.

Both the West Lake and Weldon Spring Superfund sites are located above this same karst, water-permeable limestone. The key to any Superfund cleanup is first, source removal, followed by the evaluation of reasonable technology to remove the residual contamination in the air, soil, ground and surface waters. A clay and bio-membrane-lined disposal cell with a permeable cap, like the disposal cell in Weldon Spring, will hold the contaminants for only about 400 years, but it will be active for many thousands of years. After the liner fails, any new disposal cell at West Lake and the present Weldon Spring cell will leak. The St. Louis region’s ground water resources have been compromised for years.

I think the EPA is exaggerating the time frame to complete full removal at West Lake to push their preferred alternative. Just Moms STL will not back down and is ready to fight.

Actually, the EPA has been doing nothing but playing games for too many years, while St. Louis has suffered from some very poor choices by our government. Uranium-tainted ground water washes the radionuclides within the alluvium rocks of the Missouri River to the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico, and the air disperses the potential plutonium dust in our lungs.

I wish the Army Corps of Engineers would have taken over this site years ago. Only they have the expertise, using the best engineering. They do the work first, then get the money from the responsible parties. It speeds up the process.

Dr. Michael V. Garvey of St. Charles County is an orthodonist and past president of SCCAHW.