Feb. 1 (UPI) -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced a proposal Thursday to spend $236 million to partially excavate the West Lake Landfill Superfund Site near St. Louis.
In the proposed remedy, called "Excavation Plus," the EPA plans to remove the majority of the radioactive material within five years and construct a permanent cap to best protect the city of Bridgeton.
"The people of the St. Louis region deserve clarity and answers with respect to the remediation of the West Lake Landfill," EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said in a statement. "I promised them an answer, and today I am making good on that commitment. ... Through leadership and responsiveness to communities, we will make decisions that protect public health, comply with the law, and hold potentially responsible parties accountable."
He said the remedy would also minimize odor, reduce the chance of a new smoldering event and enhance worker protection.
Pruitt said the plans will be available for public review and comment after its release "in the following days."
"I want to emphasize this is a proposal," Pruitt told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "We may learn things throughout this decision that inform this process."
The landfill has been on the Superfund National Priorities List since 1990, but the site has languished.
The radioactive contamination is an offshoot of used uranium processed at the Mallinckrodt Chemical Works factory north of downtown St. Louis as part of the Manhattan Project in World War II.
In 1973, about 8,700 tons of leached barium sulfate was "mixed with approximately 38,000 tons of contaminated soil and used to cover trash being dumped" at the landfill, according to the EPA.
In 2010, an underground fire was detected in the adjacent Bridgeton Landfill. The smoldering fire still burns a few hundred yards from the contaminated site.
In December, the site was named one of 21 sites nationwide to be targeted for "immediate, intense action" by the EPA Superfund Task Force.
The proposal is middle ground between the full excavation many community leaders and environmentalists want, and a "capping" strategy from Republic Services, which operates the landfill through a subsidiary and is among those responsible for funding the site's improvements.
Full excavation was projected to cost $695 million compared with $75 million for basic capping.
"A cap is not sufficient to protect the health of the citizens in the area," Pruitt said.
Agency officials said the plan would remove about 70 percent of the landfill's total radioactivity.
"West Lake families have been tireless advocates for the health and safety of their children and community," U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Missouri, said in a statement. "They should not have had to wait 27 years for a plan to clean up the site, especially when they were promised action under the previous administration."
Environmentalists are not satisfied with the plan.
"Partial removal is not acceptable," the Missouri Coalition for the Environment, said in a statement. "It means high levels of radioactivity will be left behind with the potential for water or airborne contamination into the future, creating unnecessary long-term risks to the St. Louis region."