Editor’s note: The People’s Tribune spoke with Alex Cohen, co-founder of the Earth Defense Coalition based in St. Louis, Missouri, which is involved in the fight to clean up the West Lake Landfill and remove hundreds of thousands of tons of nuclear weapons waste.
People’s Tribune: What is the story of the landfill and why should everybody know about it?
Alex: St. Louis was the first secret city in the Manhattan Project. Mallinckrodt Corporation had government contracts to process uranium from the Belgian Congo [used in the first atomic bombs dropped on Japan in WWII]. This led to massive amounts of waste, and some of it was dumped on the north side of St. Louis airport and it leached into [20-mile long] Coldwater Creek that runs throughout North County neighborhoods.
In 1973 a portion of the waste was illegally dumped throughout the landfill over three months (called midnight dumping) with no oversight. This waste sits on the surface just two miles from the Missouri River, source of drinking water for millions of people. The waste was intermixed with groundwater in a quarry for 44 years. Responsible parties know groundwater is contaminated and if it isn’t cleaned up, it will travel downstream, which could be the source of the contamination of my friend Robbin in Spanish Village who has Thorium at 1000 picocuries in her kitchen, a thousand times above federal clean up standards.
PT: How have the local people responded? What are the next steps in the fight?
Alex: “Just Moms-STL” are the champions on this issue. “Just Moms” was founded in early 2014. The EPA has not been the community’s friend. It has worked alongside the responsible corporation, Republic Services, a multibillion dollar company that owns the landfill (Bill Gates is its biggest investor). This has been a Superfund site for 27 years and they haven’t even tested the entire landfill. The law requires the polluter to pay for cleanup. So Republic has been doing hit pieces on us, using slap suits, taking us to civil court, defaming us on line.
Our friends in Spanish Village and the trailer park should be bought out. We’ve been asking for this for years. There was a bipartisan bill to buy them out which failed. The EPA held a public hearing on March 6 to present a solutions plan. Over 1000 people attended. Their plan, in the community’s opinion, is only a partial solution. The next step is to put political pressure on the EPA to remove the waste and clean up the site and finally end the WWII war legacy in our city.
We have this chance if enough people pressure the EPA. Now is the time to beat a multi-billion dollar corporation and send a message to these big corporations that their tactics aren’t going to work if we come together to protect our communities.
To contact Alex, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit West Lake Landfill Group on Facebook for more information: facebook.com/groups/508327822519437/. See also: facebook.com/EarthDefenseCoalition/ and stlradwastelegacy.com