State Tests Show Radioactive Contamination in Stormwater at West Lake Landfill

By on July 10, 2017

From St. Louis Post-Dispatch:  Stormwater from just outside the fence line of the West Lake Landfill complex, the dumping ground for Manhattan Project-era radioactive waste, contains a variety of radioactive isotopes, according to test results released late last month by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources.

The sampling of stormwater overflow, conducted on April 30 as heavy rains pounded the region, found levels of alpha particle activity that exceed the threshold allowed for drinking water. Uranium, radium and gross beta readings all registered within acceptable limits for drinking water, which the department used as a comparative baseline because of its stringent standards.

Regional officials from the Environmental Protection Agency, the entity tasked with overseeing the cleanup of the landfill through its Superfund program, expressed interest in the findings and in further testing, but said that the new data do not signal that public health is at risk.

Additionally, the agency said that without further analysis, a connection cannot be established between the radioactivity found in the tests and the contents of the landfill.

“It doesn’t necessarily fingerprint it to the landfill,” said Curtis Carey, the public affairs director for EPA Region 7.

Alpha particles, a form of radiation that cannot pierce the skin, need to be ingested to pose a significant health threat. The alpha readings from the sampling could not be attributed to isotopes of uranium and radium that were tested for, so DNR is conducting additional tests for thorium as a possible cause for the exceedance.

EPA officials said that even those additional tests would not be able to conclusively trace radionuclides to the landfill, since low levels of radioactivity can occur naturally.

Republic Services, the landfill operator and one of the parties responsible for financing the Superfund cleanup, echoed the view that the stormwater data do not reveal any health risks since it does not represent a source of drinking water.

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