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By the late 1950’s, a mountainous pile containing 133,000 tons of radioactive wastes had accumulated.In the 1960s, researchers for the Atomic Energy Commission’s Mound Laboratory near Dayton, Ohio determined that the waste residues sitting at the St.Louis County, in violation of federal standards; they contained an estimated 43,000 tons of radioactive uranium processing wastes and contaminated soil.Now under the national news media spotlight, a landfill adjoined to the West Lake dump has experienced a growing underground fire for the past five years.In the first place, these wastes, which will become increasingly more radioactive for at least 1,000 years, should have never been dumped without regard to federal law and then allowed to sit there for more than four decades.The landfill fire, first detected in 2010, underscores a systematic failure by the US nuclear weapons program, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Environmental Protection Agency to correct this transgression.An official for the Republic Corporation, which owns the landfill, contends the fire is moving away from the wastes.

“EPA will use all available enforcement authorities to ensure implementation of this work.”The underground barrier is not enough.A clear indication of the spread of contamination from the site was one overriding fact: Nearly all the radioactive samples we gathered had distinctive characteristics of material processed at the Mallinckrodt Plant. By 1946, the Mallinckrodt plant had run out of storage room and started trucking waste to land at the St.Louis airport, where it sat exposed to the elements for nearly two decades.If these wastes were sitting on the Energy Department's Hanford site in Washington state—which is also close to significant numbers of people and a major drinking water supply—their removal, isolation, and disposal would be high priorities.But unlike Hanford, where there is an enforceable environmental compliance agreement with the Energy Department, the West Lake problem was allowed to slip, by default, through the bureaucratic cracks, contaminating the environment for decades while the government did little or nothing.

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