Political fight delays Superfund site cleanup
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Since 1980, EPA's Superfund program has protected families and the environment by cleaning up of some of the nation's worst toxic waste sites. While any process to cleanup and ensure the safety of these sites takes time, the EPA has a demonstrated a strong record of success.

Recently, once such site, the West Lake Landfill located in Bridgeton, Missouri, has sparked a national debate over the public health implications of the management and containment of hazardous waste.  At issue is the EPA’s ability to adequately and in a timely fashion implement a remediation plan that will protect the surrounding community. 

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As with most issues during an election year, West Lake Landfill has become fiercely political. Responding to the concerns of local residents and with the aim of spurring action, federal legislators in Missouri have proposed transferring oversight of the West Lake Landfill from U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund program to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Formerly Utilized Sites Remedial Action Program (FUSRAP). 

Like everyone involved, I understand and appreciate the urgency for action. The families who have expressed concern about inaction at the site have every right to be heard. It is with them in mind that I would urge policymakers to refrain from making decisions about the future of this site – and the health of the surrounding community – with too much haste. 

After more than 30 years of exhaustive scientific testing and analysis, the EPA has committed to a final remediation plan for the West Lake Landfill in less than twelve months. The EPA has also announced plans for an isolation barrier between the Landfill and the adjacent Bridgeton Landfill. Both the remediation plan and isolation barrier could be implemented in as little as two years, paid for by private parties instead of the American taxpayer.  

If oversight of the Landfill were transferred to FUSRAP, there is no guarantee that any action would be taken in the immediate term. In reality, the few years that it would take for the EPA to implement the remediation plan is roughly the same amount of time it will take FUSRAP to being taking up the matter. The EPA has dedicated years of research and planning to develop a solution that could be months away from implementation. Policymakers should allow the agency to put forth these recommendations before taking action that could add years – even decades – to the remediation process.

Furthermore, if transferred to FUSRAP, West Lake does not qualify for high or even medium priority funding. The health of the surrounding community should take top priority, and this could very well cause further delays.

While there are enormous political pressures at work, I urge elected leaders to consider the years of research and planning the EPA has put into making a final recommendation and commitment to remediate the West Lake Landfill. Policymakers should allow the EPA to release these final recommendations at the end of this year before making any decisions that will have significant repercussions for future generations.

Duvall is an environmental and clean energy advocate and former Director of Strategic Partners for the Sierra Club.