EPA orders cleanup of nuclear waste in Missouri

By JESSICA KASAMOTO | February 15, 2018

While many may be concerned and skeptical about the effectiveness of environmental protection policies under the Trump administration, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently took a huge step forward by finally ordering the clean up of a Superfund nuclear waste site in Missouri. 

Superfund is a program developed by the EPA designed to clean up contaminated land and respond to environmental emergencies and natural disasters. 

This organization has the authority to order parties responsible for contamination to either reimburse the government for cleanup costs or take on the cleanup themselves. There are hundreds of “Superfund Sites” throughout the U.S., which are especially contaminated locations that most likely require long-term attention and cleanup. 

On Thursday, Feb. 1, the EPA officially called for the clean up of a World War II age nuclear-waste landfill located near St. Louis, a site that had been waiting 27 years to receive a governmental decision on the cleanup. 

To clean up the site, EPA administrator Scott Pruitt ordered an excavation of radioactive material from the West Lake Landfill over a period of five years; this feat is expected to cost responsible companies over $200 million dollars.

While many environmentalists were hoping for a full clean up and excavation of the site, it seems pretty unlikely that this will end up being the case. While the $236 million dollar budget is far higher than what companies had hoped to spend, it is estimated that the full cost of excavation would be more than double, close to $700 million. 

The announcement of this cleanup was intended to demonstrate the level of Pruitt’s commitment to reviving America’s Superfund program. However, it remains unknown whether this is the same intensity that the EPA will approach other Superfund cleanup sites with. 

Despite corporate interests, Pruitt has recently publicly called for aggressive Superfund cleanups. 

However, other than creating a list of sites that he believes are in dire need of environmental cleanup and attention, he has not done much to explain his exact plan for dealing with other toxic waste sites around the country.

In addition to the worry of environmentalists around the country, the Trump administration has recently proposed to cut Superfund’s budget by 30 percent. Also while the EPA can legally force many liable companies to pay for cleanup costs, there are still many abandoned sites around the country, called “orphan” sites, that have no company directly or legally responsible for the environmental damage done to this date. 

“I am concerned about orphan sites across the country in the Superfund portfolio... I think there are greater challenges beyond money. But money matters in that side of our responsibilities,” Pruitt said, according to The Washington Post.

While it is currently up in the air whether the cleanup of Superfund sites may be continued in the future, it is clear that many people, including Hopkins freshman molecular and cellular biology major Sharon Truong, strongly believe that they should.

“I believe that environmental cleanup should be a major priority for the EPA because destroying nature’s abundance only takes a fraction of the time it takes to restore it,” Truong said in an interview with The News-Letter. “The EPA’s new order to clean up the nuclear waste in Missouri is a step in the right direction, and I believe it is a very promising display of our intended efforts.”

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