A bill signed into law by Republican Governor Mike Parson calls for the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to establish a “Radioactive Waste Investigations Fund” to investigate concerns of exposure to toxic waste.
Under the supervision of the state treasurer, the fund can receive up to $150,000 from the Hazardous Waste Program under DNR.
The money can be used to conduct examinations into specific areas of concern as requested by cities, counties, and localities in Missouri.
The bill was signed on the heels of a federal report that concluded that children and adults who lived and played in the Coldwater Creek floodplain in north St. Louis County between the 1960s and 1990s may be at higher risk of developing bone, lung or breast cancer and leukemia. The report said more recent residents have an increased risk of bone and lung cancer.
Coldwater Creek and the close by West Lake Landfill are portions of the St. Louis area that have been contaminated by nuclear waste originating with the U.S. atomic bomb program of World War II, also known as the “Manhattan Project”.
Mallinckrodt Chemical Works in downtown St. Louis was an integral part of weapons production as a home to uranium purification in the 1940’s.
The resulting waste was erroneously deemed to be not radioactive or dangerous by the U.S. Government and Mallinckrodt and was dumped at several locations in the area including the St. Louis Airport Storage Site and the Hazelwood Storage Site that sits on the edge of Coldwater Creek.
Over the years the waste was transferred to other locations through hauling operations that were loosely controlled and lacking oversight. As a result, radioactive materials were dumped directly onto the ground while contamination was spread along the haul routes between the sites.
The material still had value after uranium was extracted for weapons because it still contained precious metals, which led to it being sold and moved by various companies. Cotter Corporation mixed radioactive material from the Hazelwood site with topsoil and sent it to West Lake Landfill as clean fill dirt illegally in 1973.
In February, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced plans remove 70% of the radioactive waste at West Lake by digging to a depth of about 16 feet, while installing an engineered cover system for long-term protection. The process is expected to take roughly five years at a cost of about $236 million.
Republican State Representative Mark Matthiesen of Maryland Heights sponsored one of a number of bills that would have established the “Radioactive Waste Investigation Fund”.
His measure didn’t move while the bill that became one of the first five signed by Governor Parson, from Republican Senator Mike Cunningham of Rogersville, did.
Matthiesen said the goal of the legislation was to get the state involved in the testing of soil and dust in the residential area adjacent to the West Lake Landfill for toxic waste. “If there is contamination in the neighborhood, it is our duty to find it and then take care of the problem,” said Matthiessen.
According to the EPA, the West Lake Landfill in Bridgeton is a Superfund Site (land contaminated by hazardous waste identified as a candidate for cleanup because of its risk to human health or the environment).
The area was originally farmland that became a limestone quarry in 1939, and in the 1950’s became a landfill.
Around 8,700 tons of leached barium sulfate was mixed with approximately 38,000 tons of soil and used to cover trash being dumped during daily operations at the site in 1973, according to the EPA.
In 1990, the federal agency listed the site on the National Priorities List for clean-up.
Matthiesen thinks $150,000 included in the “Radioactive Waste Investigation Fund” begins the process of addressing an issue that affects numerous areas in Missouri.
“While we couldn’t get enough money to take care of all of the areas to investigate all of the areas of concern, we got enough money (so) we can at least look at one area at a time,” said Matthiesen.
The proposal signed by the governor was also championed by Democratic Senator Maria Chappelle-Nadal of University City. She told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the legislation was “a small step to a big problem”. “There’s a lot more that needs to happen,” Chappelle-Nadal said. “We’ve got a long road ahead of us.”
Matthiesen agrees but thinks steps must first be taken to identify where the radioactive waste is. “It is a small step to a big problem. But you can’t solve the big problem until you isolate exactly where it is.”