Documents suggest West Lake report misleading

BRIDGETON, Mo. - There's new controversy surrounding the radioactive West Lake Landfill in Bridgeton.

A newly-released government document suggests reports about the waste at the landfill and possible groundwater contamination may be inaccurate and misleading. The U.S. Geological Survey put together the 14-page report, and it breaks down an earlier work by Dr. Robert Criss of Washington University who did a study of the landfill. It also addresses work done by Engineering Management Support, Inc., a company hired to study the landfill by the parties financially responsible for the radioactive waste.

Two of the major points of contention surround what exactly is buried beneath the West Lake Landfill and whether that waste is contaminating groundwater near the dump.

Dr. Criss suggests there's more radioactive waste at West Lake than originally thought, and the USGS says that's a very likely scenario. The report says the only way to know for sure is to do more research into the nuclear weapons process that created the waste.

Criss also suggests groundwater is being contaminated. But studies done by EMSI disagree.

A statement from landfill spokesman Richard Callow says:

The Superfund law directs that the potentially responsible parties engage qualified consultants to perform work under strict EPA guidelines and guidance. EMSI is a highly qualified consultantcy that has managed decades of work at sites around the country and at the West Lake site, under the supervision of federal and state authorities.

The role of a consultant is an essential part of the Superfund process. Consultants prepare reports and evaluations as drafts for EPA review, evaluation and follow-up if necessary before anything is approved and becomes part of a site's record. Agency review and comments are a critical part of the process.

Is this case, USGS reviewed Dr. Criss' evaluation of an EMSI study.

Key findings:
-Criss oversimplifies flood levels (see page 4);
-Criss incorrectly states the rate of groundwater movement (see page 5);
-Criss misstates the representativeness of the sampling event (see page 6);
-Criss incorrectly criticized the EMSI hydraulic conductivity assessment (see page 7);
-Criss incorrectly criticized the EMSI velocity assessment (see page 8).

Nothing in the USGS review undermines EPA's repeated statements that the site remains safe. The science continues to affirm that there is no evidence of a plume, leaching or migration of radionuclides from the West Lake Landfill site. Data from the fourth round of groundwater sampling involving 75 wells is now publicly available on the EPA web site. This data does not show that groundwater is coming in contact with and mobilizing radioactive materials. The data does not show a plume of groundwater contamination located underneath or downhill of the Landfill. And, the data does not indicate any sort of pattern of contamination moving from the radioactive materials in groundwater toward other parts of the site.

But the Geological Survey found problems with both EMSI and Dr. Criss' reports. The USGS says EMSI didn't properly calculate the amount of natural radiation in groundwater near the dump.

Ed Smith with the Missouri Coalition for the Environment says that error made the water tests unreliable.

"And that's something that is very serious because this is the company hired by the responsible parties for which the government agencies are making their decisions off of," said Smith.

The Geological Survey also says Dr. Criss incorrectly identified the presence and movement of the groundwater in question.

Because neither study got things exactly correct, the Geological Survey suggests more groundwater testing is needed near the landfill.


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