West Lake winds blow everywhere

West Lake landfill protestor

Sisters, associates and staff gathered Tuesday, March 29, to learn more about the West Lake Landfill nuclear waste cleanup situation. Sister Jeanne Derer, Franciscan Sister of Mary, and Gale Thackrey, justice and peace representative from the Franciscan Sisters of Mary, explained the history of how the nuclear waste came to the West Lake Landfill, what the present situation is and how the community can help.

The West Lake Landfill, near the retirement home where many School Sisters of Notre Dame and other retired sisters live, became the home of the nuclear waste after the Manhattan Project’s plan to create the atomic bomb. Mallincrodt Chemical Works in St. Louis purified the uranium used in the bombs in the 1940s and 1950s, but had little knowledge of the impact of working with the dangerous element, leaving piles of the waste uncovered in downtown St. Louis and in steel drums around the area.

With the nuclear arms race in full swing, Mallincrodt moved the waste to the suburbs of St. Louis. In the 1970s, the waste was transferred to a limestone quarry at West Lake Landfill. Sister Jeanne listed nine ways that the dangerous waste can come into contact with and harm area residents.

  1. West Lake Landfill is unprepared to handle nuclear waste.
  2. Limestone is porous.
  3. Uranium becomes hotter and more lethal over time.
  4. The landfill is located in the middle of residential areas.
  5. West Lake Landfill is on a flood plain.
  6. The area surrounding the landfill is prone to earthquakes.
  7. Tornadoes have hit the area several times.
  8. The landfill sits on an aquifer.
  9. There is an underground fire at the landfill that is moving toward the waste, and is only 600 feet away at one site.

In 1990, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) took control of West Lake Landfill, and in 2008, the agency decided to cap the waste with clay as a permanent solution to the problem, declaring no public health concerns related to the landfill. The primary and unresolved concern, though, is the fire meeting the nuclear waste, and the agency has not said what could happen.

Government representatives and the public have become advocates for the EPA to clean up the landfill with a more permanent solution, and the Army Corps of Engineers has offered solutions to dispose of the waste in a more secure manner. A bill has passed the United States Senate, but is waiting in committee in the House of Representatives.

Sister Jeanne and Gale offered ways to help the situation, such as calling Congressman Frank Pallone, chairman of the committee, and encouraging Congress to pass the bill. Prayer that the spirit of goodness and honesty will overcome lawmakers and help the situation is also welcome. Concerned citizens anywhere can become involved, as Sister Jeanne reminded everyone sadly, “West Lake winds blow everywhere.”

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