Encase or move: Groups seek solution for landfill radiological material

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Eighty-seven hundred tons of leached barium sulfate -- that's how much of this low-level radiological material was dumped at the West Lake Landfill, in Bridgeton, which is a part of the St. Louis Metropolitan Area 41 years ago. In May 2008, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) filed a Record of Decision (RoD) regarding West Lake Landfill. The EPA took over the review process in 1990 when the landfill became a Superfund site, which designates a location as needing a comprehensive environmental response.

The RoD recommended encasement of the material. During a public comment period of the finalized RoD, concerns were raised by the Missouri Coalition for the Environment (MoEnviro), elected officials, other groups and individuals. The EPA decided to re-evaluate its plan after the comments, which could conclude with the original RoD, partial excavation and storage of the material on-site or complete excavation and transport of the material.

A new organization -- The Coalition to Keep Us Safe (CKS) -- hopes the final decision for the site is the 2008 RoD. State Rep. Glen Kolkmeyer, R-Odessa, and Lafayette County Presiding Commissioner Harold Hoflander are among its supporters. A list of other CKS supporters by first name and last initial is on the organization's website. CKS is sponsored by Bridgeton Landfill LLC and Rock Road Industries Inc., which operates the landfill. Hoflander said he doesn't want any of the material to travel through Lafayette County either by road or rail.

"Lafayette County has the largest number of miles of (Interstate) 70. Roads get worn out and I'm worried about wrecks," he said. "I just don't want it done and the tax expenses to pay for it."

Similar low-level radiological material already travels through the state on major roadways and by rail, however, and excavation of materials is conducted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Formerly Utilized Sites Remedial Action Program. Hoflander said he knows some material is already transported through the county, but to him it is a drop-in-the bucket compared to the amount of material at West Lake.

According to Chris Whitley, public affairs specialist with the EPA Region 7 Office of Public Affairs, the EPA is looking at several possible solutions.

"This will be its own project with its own remedy. It is premature right now to know what will happen," he said, adding under current conditions there is no exposure risk to the public.

Molly Teichman, spokesperson for CKS, claims there is an exposure risk if the area is excavated. If any excavation is conducted, the EPA, as well as the potentially responsible parties (PRP), will conduct air monitoring at the site, according to Whitley. In reporting from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Teichman is friends with Hoflander's wife, Kay, who volunteers and sent a recent press release for CKS, and Rep. Kolkmeyer. The reporting also stated Hoflander's stepson, Russ Knocke, works as the director of field communications and public affairs for the parent company of the landfill operators, Republic Services.

Another concern is occurring at the Bridgeton Landfill, which neighbors West Lake -- a subsurface smoldering event (SSE) that began in 2010. According to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, elevated temperatures, hydrogen and carbon monoxide levels and a reduced methane concentration is indicative of a SSE.

The SSE is moving toward West Lake and the original RoD didn't consider any smoldering event, said MoEnviro Safe Energy Director Ed Smith. He added the PRP of Republic Services and General Atomics and its subsidiary Cotter Corp., which owns the radiological material at West Lake conducted a study, requested by the EPA, through Engineering Management Support Inc., of Lakewood, Colo., regarding what would happen at West Lake if there was a fire, which reaches the radiological material and the original RoD was implemented. A third PRP is the U.S. Department of Energy, according to Smith. The results of the study were sent to the EPA in January, he said.

"It's not a surprise the report found no environmental impact," he said. "It was challenged by the EPA office in Cincinnati for legitimate reasons."

A memo from the Cincinnati office to the Region 7 office in Kansas City agreed the barium sulfate wouldn't be more or less radioactive due to an SSE, but there is no information regarding the affects of heat on non-radiological material at the site. The memo also stated the structural integrity of the encasement cap of the 2008 RoD could be affected by a SSE. The cap would consist of layers of rock, construction rubble, clay and soil.

An isolation barrier is being built at the landfill to separate West Lake from the SSE by the Army Corps of Engineers, according to EPA Region 7 Administrator Karl Brooks in a letter to Mo. State Attorney General Chris Koster. An EPA update on the site from Monday, April 7, stated visible work on the barrier will start in May.

"The isolation barrier is a short-term/near-term issue. It will almost certainly involve some excavation, said Whitley.

There are other concerns for Smith regarding West Lake -- the landfill has no groundwater barrier and is in a flood plain. He also said it's eight miles upstream from a Missouri American Water intake, which serves North St. Louis.

Financial issues are a troubling factor for CKS, however. In an email Teichman said the original 2008 RoD plan would take 3-5 years and cost $50 million, paid for by the companies. Excavation would cost much more and take many more years, which, Teichman asserted, the costs would be covered by taxpayers. That assertion isn't entirely accurate, though, according to Smith.

"The companies do not solely bear the financial burden," he said, regarding the RoD plan and added it is the responsibility of the PRP to decide how costs are divvied among the two companies and the government.

No final and definitive decision regarding the radiological material at West Lake has been made.

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