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Just Moms Question EPA Award for Atomic Site Remediation

West Lake Landfill

By Don Corrigan

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced the winners of the third annual National Federal Facility Excellence in Site Reuse awards. The Weldon Spring atomic site, located in St. Charles, Missouri, receives one of three awards given nationally.

Pictured above: Dawn Chapman (Left) and Karen Nickel, co-founders of Just Moms STL.

Dawn Chapman, a leader of Just Moms STL, which has been battling for the remediation of the West Lake atomic site in the Bridgeton area across from St. Charles, is not so impressed by the award for Weldon Spring.

“If we are being honest, the federal government polluted the hell out of this area during the atomic bomb production era,” said Chapman. “Then it let everything just sit around leaking for decades — some of it sitting next to a high school. The government let radioactive waste get into ponds and streams, then knowingly allowed and even encouraged people to hunt and fish there.”

The Weldon Spring DOE LM Site, comprised of a former Chemical Plant and Quarry, has a complex history, according to the EPA. It played a pivotal role in the success of World War II and the Cold War, according to EPA, and the 228-acre site,  located about 25 miles west of St. Louis, has been revitalized for beneficial reuse as a community educational center and recreational site.

EPA officials said new Weldon Spring Interpretive Center features exhibits designed to fulfill DOE’s post-closure responsibilities. The center informs and educates the public about long-term stewardship and the site’s historical legacy. An important educational focus is on risk communication, showing how cleanup activities made the site safe for public use. Other redevelopment highlights include community use facilities and a natural prairie habitat, which promotes wildlife conservation.

“What they at EPA are saying is: Look what a great job we did making it safe now after our clean up,” said Chapman. “I guess this is them admitting it wasn’t safe before. Again, two bad they let and encouraged the public to recreate on land that the government contaminated.

“I don’t know what this all means for the polluted West Lake site, except there are also many chemicals on that landfill that are hazardous in addition to radioactive wastes,” added Chapman. “These will not be addressed in the clean up plan, so hopefully the site stays closed to the public.

“I have been in the new Weldon Spring interpretive center and it is stunning the before and afters. I would not be opposed to something similar for West Lake, but the tone would have to be completely different. For instance, I don’t agree with bragging about the clean up. It think it is sad that it was even needed in the first place,” said Chapman.  “That should be the highlight: Look what we had to do and how much we had to spend because we DID NOT clean up after ourselves and we left a huge mess that continued to get bigger! That should be the tone. It should serve as a warning to others and should also be a memorial to those who lost their lives from it.”

According to EPA, the awards for the remediated sites recognize innovative thinking and cooperation among federal agencies, states, local partners, and developers that have led to noteworthy restoration and reuse of federal facility sites.

“For the past three years, we’ve shown how federal facility Superfund sites can be transformed into community assets,” said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler. “I’m proud of the work to address and redevelop these sites, which provides economic development and investment and creates jobs in these communities.”

EPA Region 7 Administrator Jim Gulliford added: “One of the major goals of the Superfund program is to return contaminated sites into productive reuse for the surrounding communities. The Weldon Spring Interpretive Center provides historical and scientific educational opportunities about the site and its cleanup that will inform future generations about the area’s unique history.”

“Wow! The use of the term ‘unique history’ really doesn’t do justice to what really happened out at the Weldon site or the remaining West Lake site,” said Chapman. “I mean, if we are being honest, the federal government polluted the hell out of the St. Louis area during the atomic production era, then let everything just sit around leaking.

“I think the truth is the truth – no matter how hard it is to hear,” added Chapman.  “The United States Government allowed something horrible to happen in St. Louis and Weldon Spring. If the opportunity exists to learn from it, then that is great. But I don’t think focusing on how great a job they did cleaning up should be allowed, without first focusing on the heartbreaking reason it had to be cleaned up in the first place.”

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