ST. LOUIS COUNTY - Documents obtained by 5 on Your Side show how one government agency, the Department of Energy, went to great length to avoid any responsibility for cleaning up the West Lake Landfill.
In the 1940s, Mallinckrodt Chemical Works in downtown St. Louis purified thousands of tons of uranium to make the first atomic bombs. But the process also generated enormous amounts of radioactive waste. Citing national security, the Atomic Energy Commission, now the Department of Energy, quietly ordered the material moved to north St. Louis County in 1947.
According to records, 8,000 tons of that waste was illegally dumped at West Lake by a private company. From that point forward, documents show the DOE used that dump as a "get out of responsibility" card.
In a memo dated May 1992, the Department of Energy worker wrote "The DOE does not have any liability or responsibility for the site..."
Three days later, a note from a DOE official stated: "A Missouri member's office expressed desire to direct DOE to clean up the West Lake Landfill. I urge that DOE oppose any Congressional delegation of clean up responsibility…"
"The West Lake Landfill is likely to have significant contamination…it is not in the best interest of DOE to be the deep pocket for cleanup of sites which it has no legal responsibility…"
Clearly, the federal government knew 22 years ago how dangerous this stuff was.
The DOE official wrote: "There was some concern by the Missouri member(S) because a portion of the site is owned by a church; apparently one motivation for considering a DOE cleanup of the landfill is to avoid liability to the church."
"I discussed several ways this could be accomplished without DOE cleaning up the site, specifically the de minimis settlement."
Sources told 5 on your Side if West Lake became a superfund site, and EPA had responsibility, innocent owners, like the church, would be exempt from liability under de minimis.
The DOE official wrote, "I pointed out if specific legislation were appropriate, such legislation could exempt an owner rather than give the entire cleanup responsibility and liability to DOE."
Another words, DOE would share costs with EPA and other responsible parties.
While some people have asked that the EPA step aside and let the DOE get more involved in West Lake, that doesn't appear likely. A DOE spokesperson told us to call the EPA.