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Radioactive West Lake Landfill: "The people of St. Louis have had to live with this burden for generations"

This radiation warning sign is posted on the perimeter fence of the West Lake Landfill in Bridgeton, Mo. Photo credit: Sarah Skiold-Hanlin, St. Louis Public Radio)As the clock winds down on the 70-year mark, commemorating the infamous atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, the radioactive mess that was made in the U.S. to generate those uranium and plutonium bombs, respectively, has yet to be cleaned up.

As a letter sent by a bipartisan, bicameral group of U.S. Senators and Representatives from Missouri to the U.S. Energy Secretary states, "...the West Lake Landfill site in North St. Louis only one of numerous sites in the St. Louis region that remains impacted by wastes generated by the United States government as part of the early Manhattan Project in the 1940s. The people of St. Louis have had to live with this burden for generations and we believe it is incumbent on the federal government to find a clear path forward for all the sites either through removal of the [radiologically impacted material] or effective containment."

Complicating "effective containment," however, is the fact that the radioactively contaminated West Lake Landfill site is in the Missouri River floodplain, upstream from major drinking water intakes for the metro St. Louis region.

As Beyond Nuclear board member Kay Drey puts it, St. Louis bears the burden of some of the oldest radioactive wastes of the Atomic Age. St. Louis-based Mallinckrodt Chemical Works processed extraordinarily highly concentrated (65% uranium) Belgian Congo ore for the Manhattan Project, which fed uranium enrichment facilities at Oak Ridge, TN. Some of the enriched uranium then fueled plutonium-production reactors at the Hanford Works in WA, which generated the deadly material that went into the "Trinity" test blast in New Mexico on July 16, 1945, as well as the "Fat Man" bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan on August 9, 1945. Highly enriched uranium that had passed through St. Louis for processing also went into the "Little Boy" bomb that annihilated Hiroshima on August 6, 1945.

In 1973, radioactive Manhattan Project wastes were illegally dumped at the West Lake Landfill site, where they remain a risk and hazard to this day.

In their letter, U.S. Senators Claire McCaskill (D-MO) and Roy Blunt (R-MO), and U.S. Representatives Wm. Lacy Clay (D-MO) and Ann Wagner (R-MO), urged Energy Secretary Moniz to reconsider the U.S. Department of Energy's previous decision to not include the West Lake Landfill site in its FUSRAP (Formerly Utilized Site Remedial Action Program). A top official at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, as well as the administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, were cc'd, in hopes of the federal agencies determining the best possible way to protect St. Louisans from the deadly legacy of the oldest radioactive wastes of the Atomic Age.

In March 2015, Beyond Nuclear board member Kay Drey and colleagues in St. Louis published a pamphlet entitled "Remove the radioactive wastes NOW! Protect Metro St. Louis' water and air from West Lake Landfill's radioactive contamination!" It includes a map, showing that the radioactive wastes at West Lake Landfill are upstream of the drinking water intakes for North County and the City of St. Louis, on the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers. The pamphlet urges readers to "Please go to to sign a letter asking U.S. Senators Claire McCaskill and Roy Blunt and Congress members William Lacy Clay and Ann Wagner to work to transfer responsibility for West Lake’s radioactive wastes to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers."