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But the Missouri Coalition for the Environment argued to the agency that it was reckless to leave this particular element—thorium, a byproduct of uranium’s decay chain that becomes more radioactive over centuries—in an unlined landfill that sits in a developed area on a flood plain prone to tornadoes. Many people living near the site didn’t even know it was there, and most who did gave it scant attention.“We had no reason to look into the Superfund site before the smell, since it wasn’t a nuisance,” says Harvey Ferdman, a former volunteer policy adviser to Bridgeton’s state representative who now serves as an official, unpaid liaison between the community and the EPA.

Republic argues that the agency’s recommendation to cover the waste is still the safest, quickest, and easiest remedy.Over the years the company chemically processed tens of thousands of tons of uranium, including the fissile material for the bomb the U. Louis countryside in the late 1950s and ’60s, according to documents from the Atomic Energy Commission and its successor, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.From there, selected residue that still had some value was sold by the AEC; Cotter Corp., another uranium processor, eventually acquired about 100,000 tons. Cotter couldn’t figure out how to get rid of 8,700 tons of leached barium sulfate, which contained 7 tons of unprocessed uranium, and the commission didn’t have any suggestions.With the initial recommendation to cap the waste, “the EPA has already established the fact that there’s a risk to human health if they don’t take action,” says Ed Smith, policy director of the Missouri Coalition for the Environment.His group wants some, if not all, of the waste removed from West Lake.

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