ST. LOUIS COUNTY – There's new information about the West Lake Landfill and the underground fires causing so much concern in our area.
For the first time, Washington University geochemist Bob Criss says there is no doubt the fire has collided with radioactive particles.
Criss and others consulted for this report stress there is no immediate public danger but frustration is mounting and calls for the Environmental Protection Agency to step aside are getting louder. He says the latest data indicates that the fire has collided with radioactive particles carried in groundwater.
"What the danger level is, is hard to say. There is plenty of concern and that concern is legitimate," said Criss.
And there is more news involving the site. According to Pattonville Assistant Fire Chief Matt LaVanchy, heat has breached interceptor wells that are supposed to stop the fires from reaching the radioactive waste. He is most concerned about well #56R, which is north of the interceptors.
"The temperature for that particular well was 186 degrees and showed CO level of 1200 ppm," said LaVanchy.
CO is a key indicator for firefighters. LaVanchy said this was the first sign that the heat has gone past the interceptors.
"There is no magic wall that is going to stop it from moving into the north and potentially into the area which is home of all this radioactive stuff," said LaVanchy.
Dawn Chapman and others who live near the landfill are growing frustrated by the day.
"It's not time to pack up your bags and leave your house, but it is time to get to meetings and start participating because something of great concern in happening in our community," she said.
"It's a clown act," said Criss in describing how the EPA has handled West Lake Landfill. He and others want the Department of Energy to take over or at least lend assistance.
"We need quality information and we're not getting that from the EPA. The Department of Energy was the people who ran the Manhattan project, they were the people who built nuclear weapons, purified uranium for reactors, and issue licenses, and have the nuclear labs. They are the ones who have the expertise needed here," said Criss.
The EPA takes issue with much of what Criss says. Chris Whitley, the public affairs specialist sent over the following points:
1. EPA Region 7 disagrees with a number of Dr. Criss's assertions regarding this data and how it was collected.
2. First, neither the GCPT (ground probe) data, nor any of the core sampling data collected to date, has completed the quality assurance process to most fully assure its legitimacy and accuracy. The data on which Dr. Criss appears to be basing his assertions was both partial and incomplete. It would be premature to base any conclusions on such limited information.
3. No groundwater data collected to date suggests there is any migration of radiologically-impacted material off this site.
4. The radiation screening equipment was NOT calibrated on site. It was, in fact, calibrated by labs located many miles away from the site. Control checks of this equipment were performed on the site, using known quantities of radioactive material to ensure that the equipment was reading properly.
5. The engineering survey being performed by contractors hired by Republic Services and overseen by EPA is proceeding as planned, and is succeeding at its main objectives: to identify the presence of any radiologically-impacted material that may exist within the survey area, and gather data that will inform the design and placement of an isolation barrier.
A spokesperson for Republic, the landfill's owner, issued this statement: "It is irresponsible for Criss and LaVanchy to fuel stories that scare people when the state and federal regulators who actually work on the site repeatedly offer reassurance and caution."
The EPA is taking core samples to determine where to build a barrier wall so the fire could not reach the radioactive material. A spokesperson for Republic said that sampling should be completed this month with a recommendation made public in the spring.