Dawn Chapman, Just Moms STL, had listened with surprise and skepticism as the new head of the Environmental Protection Agency vowed to clean up West Lake, the nuclear waste dump that has filled her days and nights with worry. Read full article.
The EPA’s National Remedy and Review Board released a document last Thursday that called removal of toxic waste at West Lake Landfill “feasible.” It gave a summary of its recommendations for the area, many of which were in direct opposition to what the EPA has been saying about the site for years. Just Moms STL, Missouri Coalition for the Environment, and other groups have requested the document over the past three years under the Freedom of Information Act, but the EPA has denied them the document. Now, as the document is released, it’s more clear why the EPA was so resistant to these groups seeing it in the first place. Since 2008, the EPA’s plan has been to put a cap on the site, containing the waste but not providing a long-term solution. The EPA and landfill owner Republic Services had cited that the cap would cost ten times less than removing the waste, and that the waste couldn’t be removed safely for workers or the community. The report, however, completely discredits those statements. It says that removal would be safe for workers and provide a long-term solution for the community, and that EPA region 7 overestimated the costs of removal on several fronts. Just Moms STL have been advocating for removal for years. They recognized that a safe and permanent solution was the best way to protect the community now and in the long-term, especially given the history of the area. Some of the victims of West Lake are former victims of Coldwater creek, a nearby nuclear toxic dump site. Now that the National Review Board document has been released saying that removal is feasible after all, the community is angry. They should have had this information years ago. If the EPA has known for three years that removal of the waste is the best option, why haven’t they done anything to start that process? It’s time for the EPA to recognize their failure on West Lake, and to abandon the plan to cap the landfill.
The two smoldering landfills in Bridgeton, Missouri have forced the community around them to take action. Just Moms STL, a group headed by area moms Karen Nickel and Dawn Chapman, has executed steps from community phone calls to representatives to meeting with EPA administrator Gina McCarthy to discuss relocation. The group and the problem have attracted national attention, and yet the Bridgeton and West Lake Landfills seems to remain a Bridgeton issue in the eyes of many St. Louisans—not a St. Louis issue. This has to change.
It’s easy for the issue to remain localized for several reasons. First, St. Louisans can dismiss the landfills as a problem only for those who live near them. Since most St. Louis residents aren’t currently experiencing the health effects or odor of the landfills, they don’t have the constant reminder of the danger there. Last fall, St. Louis County released emergency evacuation plans, and rumors flew about the possibility of radioactive waste being spread by wind throughout the whole of St. Louis. But after these scares died down, most of St. Louis put West Lake on the back burner.
Bridgeton residents continue to push forward on the issue, and the rest of St. Louis needs to do the same. The question of unity continues to dog the city, as it has for so many things. The Greater St. Louis area is separated into St. Louis City and St. Louis County, a divide that hurts both sides. The county is further divided into municipalities, which have their own semi-independent jurisdiction. The problems in this division and hierarchy were demonstrated, for example, during the Black Lives Matter movement in 2014. Ferguson as a municipality, St. Louis County, and St. Louis City were all at odds for authority, and they, especially in regards to their separate police, failed to coordinate.
In that case, however, St. Louis residents did recognize that Black Lives Matter was not just a Ferguson issue—it was a city-wide, nation-wide issue. The movement was not limited to Ferguson, and actions occurred across the city and county. The same needs to happen for the West Lake and Bridgeton Landfills. Republic dumpsters are in every other alley in St. Louis city. Republic has sites not only in Bridgeton, but in Cahokia, South County, and North City. St. Louis residents have to realize that the landfills are an issue for the whole of St. Louis and rally around leaders like Just Moms STL.
EPA has gone dark. McCarthy is awaiting the end of her termand no one is protecting the American citizens or our environment.
It is outrageous that Administrator Gina McCarthy refuses to acknowledge the citizens living near the Bridgeton/West Lake Superfund site. What is wrong with her? Just Moms STL wrote a letter requesting a meeting in May of 2015 and never even received an acknowledgement that they asked for a meeting. They traveled to Washington, DC anyway in hopes of seeing McCarthy after their federal delegation of senators and congress representatives sent a letter to encourage McCarthy to meet with them. The community received nothing from the office of the Administrator. Not a call, a letter or even an e-mail saying she had a prior commitment or was on travel.
A second letter was sent this past fall to say the community leaders are planning to travel to Washington, D.C. in February and would she please meet with them to discuss the Superfund site which has been mismanaged by her regional staff. Again there was silence. I personally called every day but one in the month of January and February leading up to the date that local people were traveling to D.C. On many occasions when I called, all I received was a voice mail message that asked me to leave a message and someone would get back to me. I left message after message and no one, not a single person from the agency returned my call.
On a few occasions I actually talked to a woman who answered the phone. She was courteous and respectful and always promised to deliver the message to scheduling department. “Someone will call you back soon.” But no one ever called. The citizens living around the site began a telephone campaign to McCarthy’s office. It was only a week until they travel to D.C. and no one provided an answer if McCarthy would meet or not. The community sold cupcakes, brownies, t-shirts, and worked hard to raise the funds to visit D.C. and meet with the Administrator to explain what was going on from their perspective.
With a slim chance of meeting with McCarthy, now two years since their first request for a meeting was made, they climbed on a plane and came to D.C. While there they met with their congressional delegation, allies in the field but never had a meeting with McCarthy. Also they were never denied a meeting; it was deafeningly silent. My goodness if the answer is “NO” then say so. To say nothing is irresponsible, inexcusable and further victomizing the victims.
I stood outside of McCarthy’s office at 9 a.m. the last day of the groups visit. From the sidewalk I called her office and explained that local leaders are downstairs and waiting for a response from McCarthy before they need to leave for the airport. The public relations office sent down a two young people to receive the letter the community had for McCarthy, outlining their concerns. They apologized that McCarthy wasn’t available to meet. She couldn’t have told the citizens before they left St. Louis that she couldn’t meet? It is not a big request to ask for a simple yes or no of availability.
My take away . . . fire McCarthy. My tax dollars should not be spent on someone who works in government and ignores the citizens of the United States. All she had to do on both occasions is say I’m sorry I’ve got a previous engagement. Common courtesy should be a requirement of feredal employment.
With social crises escalating in the US and worldwide, it can be difficult to find news stories to give thanks for or to celebrate. This week, there are a few stories of environmental progress that shine a light in the darkness. These victories on the community, national and international levels prove that positive change, though sometimes slow in coming, is always on the horizon. 1) Community Victory in St. Louis: Just last week, Missouri delegates introduced legislation that would transfer the Bridgeton and West Lake Superfund Sites to the jurisdiction of the Army Corps of Engineers, rather than the EPA. Community activists are hopeful that this change in authority will yield positive results for the communities near the site. As Lois Gibbs wrote in a statement last week, this move will take advantage of the Corps’ technical expertise, while shifting clean-up responsibility from Republic Services, which has managed the site under the EPA. This is not the end of the road for St. Louis communities who are threatened by a burning landfill creeping slowly towards another site containing radioactive waste. “What really must be moved is not only the jurisdiction of this clean-up, but vulnerable families. This is the first step on a long road to recovery for the families involved and for the natural environment,” said Gibbs.
2) National Decision on Keystone XL: On November 6th, President Obama announced his decision reject the Keystone XL oil pipeline project, which would have transported crude oil from the Alberta Tar Sands to the Gulf of Mexico. The potential for spills endangered the crucially important freshwater Oglalla aquifer and threatened communities along the pipeline’s route. Additionally, the pipeline project would have perpetuated injustices against indigenous people in Alberta Canada whose homes have been destroyed by tar sands development, while increasing impacts from oil refineries in the Gulf. Though this is undoubtedly a moment to celebrate, recent NPR coverage makes the point that “thousands of miles of pipelines have been built in the same time that people have debated the 875-mile stretch that would have completed the Keystone XL. And more are being built right now.” Though we are far from transforming the energy economy, the Keystone decision is a symbolic victory and a sign of the power of grassroots organizing.
3) International Community Gearing Up for Climate Negotiations: Even as Paris is reeling from devastating terror attacks last week, the city is still preparing to host the COP21 UN Climate Summit, where over 150 world leaders will gather and attempt to hash out an international response to climate change. The meeting is expected to result in the first climate agreement since the failed Kyoto Protocol. Though rallies and marches associated with the conference have been canceled in the wake of the attacks, thus removing a powerful channel for citizen actions, the talks will proceed, and will hopefully culminate in a powerful act of international solidarity in a city at its most vulnerable moment.
In the midst of international crises, the needle continues to move on critically important environmental justice issues, from community pollution to climate change. It’s the perfect time to give thanks for the community members and advocates who are fighting for change on these and other issues – to express gratitude for grassroots action that continues to guide the way forward to a more just world.
The community surrounding West Lake Landfill near St. Louis, MO has been fighting for their lives. CHEJ has been working with the grassroots group Just Moms STL for over a year to help train them to organize their neighbors to join them in their fight to regain their health.
An underground fire is burning approximately one thousand feet from 50,000 tons of illegally dumped radioactive waste from the Manhattan Project, which experts estimate can reach the waste in as little three to six months. The fire has been burning for five years, sending smoke and soot into the streets and homes of the surrounding areas. Residents believe this toxic smoke has been causing an upsurge in health problems such as lupus and cancer, and the state health department defined the area to have a much higher than expected childhood cancer rate. Children cannot play in their yards because the air is so toxic it causes nosebleeds.
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) listed West Lake Landfill as a Superfund site in 1990. Since then, the EPA has continuously mishandled clean up efforts and refuses to move families away from the hazardous site. Just Moms STL has been trying to meet with EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy for over a year to discuss the health problems that are affecting their children and to establish a plan, but they are constantly denied a meeting.
The St. Louis County Government put together an Emergency Operation Plan in case of a potential nuclear threat; stating its purpose is to reduce or prevent the loss of lives within the county. The plan states the catastrophic event will occur with little or no warning at all. Residents will be urged to shelter in place until the county can properly set up evacuation points. Just Moms STL continues to fight for their communities and the relocation of their families.
Toxic environmental pollution is unfortunately widespread. If you follow Backyard Talk, by now you have probably heard the story of the West Lake Landfill near St. Louis, Missouri, a dumping ground for nuclear waste from the Manhattan Project toward which an underground fire is slowly creeping. Just last week a contingent from Just Moms St. Louis spoke at a D.C. press conference about the health challenges they and their children have faced while living near this polluted site. The following video shows footage from the press conference and the subsequent march: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XpSchIhnYdE.
One commenter on this video asked me whether homeowners could potentially avoid a situation like this through diligent research into the history of where they plan to live. Shouldn’t it be relatively easy to identify whether a site near your home is on the National Priorities List? The story of this site illuminates some common complications that arise during the process of identifying a toxic area and moving toward eventual remediation. It is exceedingly difficult for environmental scientists, let alone community members, to identify pollutants and quantify risks. This post summarizes just a few of the factors that make this process so complex.
Many polluted sites go unrecorded and undetected. When you think of contaminated sites, what comes to mind? We might expect the ground under a former gas station to be loaded with organic contaminants, or predict pollution downstream from a factory. However, not all sites have a clear usage history with easily predictable exposures. This is especially true in the case of places like the West Lake Landfill where waste has been illegally dumped. Radioactive waste was illegally discarded in 1973, but wasn’t uncovered until 1977.
It’s a long road from detection to Superfund designation… The West Lake Landfill was discovered to be contaminated in the 1970s, but it wasn’t until 1990 that the site wound up on the National Priorities List, which designates it as a Superfund Site. How does a site end up on the NPL? There are several different mechanisms that the EPA uses to list sites on the NPL, all of which require extensive characterization of the hazards that are present, and of potential routes for human exposure. At the end of the day, not every polluted site ends up on the Superfund list – leaving still more undocumented but polluted areas. During these interim years, the West Lake Landfill was still polluted – it just wasn’t listed.
…And it’s an even longer road to remediation. Once the West Lake Landfill was placed on the National Priorities List, it was another 18 years until a cleanup plan was ultimately developed. The process of developing a remediation plan involves countless scientific studies, and meetings with PRPs (Potentially Responsible Parties) who are tasked with devising a cleanup strategy that makes sense for the site. During this time, communities are placed in limbo. They live in a documented toxic area, making it difficult to sell their homes, and while cleanup is planned or underway, their potential exposure to toxic compounds continues.
Even then, the unexpected can happen. Much of the current concern surrounding the West Lake site stems from the presence of a smoldering underground fire in an adjacent landfill, which is slowly making its way toward the radioactive waste. It took well over a decade for the EPA to reach a decision on what to do with the West Lake site, and now that this new factor has been introduced, the risks at the site have changed considerably. Any remediation will now have to account for the fire, and underground fires are notoriously difficult to stop.
It is difficult enough for environmental scientists and managers to detect environmental pollution, to determine the urgency of remediation activities, to decide on a plan, and to revise that plan if the unexpected occurs. It is nearly impossible for potential homeowners to keep abreast of the slow-moving yet unpredictable process of listing and remediating a Superfund Site.
Community moms with sick children traveled from Bridgeton, MO to Washington D.C. to demand action from EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and Philanthropist Bill Gates – to use their power to save innocent families living adjacent to Republic Service’s Superfund landfill in St. Louis, MO that is burning out-of-control and contains radioactive wastes from the Manhattan Project.
Republic’s landfill has been burning due to an underground fire that has been spewing toxins for years – leaving nearby families physically harmed and financially trapped. The state of Missouri found that the community has a childhood cancer cluster, a high number of rare appendix cancers, and many other diseases which local families believe are directly related to the fire and radioactive wastes.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has the authority to protect and move families under the Superfund program. Bill Gates has the power to protect and move families using his voting power as the dominant shareholder of Republic Services. Donald Slager, Republic Services CEO, is the owner of the site has a moral responsibility.
“It is outrageous that EPA Administrator McCarthy is allowing this poisoning of American families to continue. McCarthy has mismanaged this site for years. Additionally, she relocated (or “transferred” – what the EPA does instead of firing) everyone – including EPA’s regional administrator Karl Brooks – while innocent people are trapped living in fear. The state of Missouri admitted that the fire will never be put out and it will be more than two years before the first shovel of dirt is moved to build a barrier wall between the fire and radioactive waste. This is unacceptable. EPA has the authority to move families away from the danger through Superfund. McCarthy must use her authority to protect innocent American families,” said Lois Gibbs, Executive Director of the Center for Health, Environment and Justice.
“My child is suffering with an autoimmune disease called alopecia and from asthma. Besides that, our community has a childhood cancer cluster – so I go to bed at night worried that my son will also develop cancer. I think if Administrator Gina McCarthy heard our story, she’d agree to move our families now,” said Meagan Beckermann, a resident and member of the community group Just Moms STL.
Dawn Chapman, another mom and Just Moms STL member who flew to DC from St. Louis, hoping for a meeting with McCarthy, said, “We are living next to an out-of-control burning Superfund site that just had a 500% increase in sulfur emissions over the past year alone.”
“Property values are declining in communities surrounding the site. We are imprisoned in our homes that we cannot morally sell with good conscience,” said Karen Nickel, another member of Just Moms STL.
A group representing Just Moms STL marched to EPA headquarters today to deliver a letter to Administrator McCarthy and hand out flyers asking those passing by to contact the Administrator’s office and urge her to meet with the victims of the out-of-control fire and radioactive dumpsite.
The group of protesters then marched to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in D.C. to deliver over 1,500 signatures on a petition to ask Bill Gates to use his voice and power as the dominant shareholder in Republic Services to ask the corporation to stop the suffering, and to purchase the homes of victims who need to be moved away from the toxic landfill.
“The truth is that nobody is really sure what is buried at the West Lake Landfill, or where — and that’s the problem.” – Ryan Schuessler, Al Jazeera News.
A burning landfill, in proximity to a radioactive waste dump, in a neighborhood with a host of unexplained health problems ranging from appendix cancer to alopecia – all the elements of an environmental crisis in the making, and a health crisis already well underway. This is what some citizens of St. Louis have been coping with, and what has brought a group of them to Washington, D.C. today in an effort to protect their children.
A group of mothers from St. Louis will convene at the National Press Club today for a press conference on the nuclear waste polluting their town. After, they will deliver petitions to Bill Gates, who has the power to protect St. Louis families from further harms. While he is not responsible for the situation, Gates is the major shareholder of Republic Services, the company responsible for the waste. He can use both his shareholder vote and his financial influence to push for an evacuation of St. Louis families living near the landfill.
Post-Press Conference Updates:
On Thursday, three mothers from St. Louis, representing the group ‘Just Moms,’ spoke at the National Press Club in Washington and bore heartbreaking testimony to the devastating health problems their children have suffered from living adjacent to the West Lake Landfill Superfund Site. The mothers have been pressing EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy for a meeting, but she has thus far ignored their requests, leaving them with few places to turn in fighting for the health and safety of their children.
Following the press conference, the Just Moms and a crowd of supporters marched to the EPA headquarters in Washington, D.C., chanting “The Moms Are Not Going Away, Gina McCarthy Meet Today!” They demonstrated and passed out fliers outside of EPA headquarters, before traveling to the headquarters of the Gates Foundation to deliver petitions to Bill Gates.