Activists concerned that vestiges of Cold War bomb-making pose grave environmental threats gathered Thursday night in Liberty to press for more aggressive cleanup measures.
The Alliance for Nuclear Accountability, a coalition of organizations from communities located near Department of Energy nuclear facilities, has long contended the federal government spends too little to rid former weapons manufacturing facilities of pollution.
Thursday’s meeting of about two dozen people focused on the Bannister Federal Complex in south Kansas City, where various toxins have been linked to worker health problems, and a St. Louis area landfill tainted by radioactive waste.
“We’re concerned about the toxins there and how, and when, they’re going to be cleaned up,” Ann Suellentrop, an ANA board member, said as part of a panel at the meeting. She called for more transparency about contamination at the Bannister site and wondered, “Will the federal government ever clean it up the right way?”
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A year ago, the firm picked to redevelop the sprawling site at Bannister Road and Troost Avenue started an environmental and engineering evaluation of the property, once home to a plant that produced non-nuclear parts for nuclear weapons.
CenterPoint Properties projected that study to take 18 months. It’s exploring how to demolish the buildings on the 300-acre complex and tackle the sensitive and expensive work of environmental restoration. In all, the cost of demolition and cleaning up contamination has been estimated at upward of $175 million.
That company mailed letters in late summer to people living near the plant saying its survey was ongoing and acknowledging residents want “more details on environmental cleanup.”
Maurice Copeland, who worked at the plant for 32 years, has been working with other former employees to secure compensation for those who fell ill after working at the site. He said that the cost of cleaning up the compound has been vastly underestimated and that he doesn’t believe the federal government has been honest about the extent of contamination.
“They cannot clean that place up,” he said. “And they will not clean it up.”
The General Services Administration and the National Nuclear Security Administration have been trying to prepare the Bannister site for eventual redevelopment for about four years.
Honeywell operated the non-nuclear parts plant for many years for the Department of Energy. In 2014, Honeywell’s roughly 2,600 employees moved about 8 miles south into a new $687 million National Security Campus at Missouri 150 and Botts Road.
Thursday’s meeting also focused on criticism of the federal government’s handling of Cold War era nuclear waste dumped illegally in the St. Louis area in the 1970s that had long been thought to be corralled inside the West Lake Landfill.
But an Environmental Protection Agency survey suggested last year that some radioactive material might have spread to the adjacent Bridgeton Landfill. An underground fire has smoldered in one section of the Bridgeton Landfill since 2010.
That’s prompted a push for a barrier between the two landfills, but some residents in the area and an environmentalist have called for more dramatic action — relocating the radioactive waste.
“There are so many people who … don’t know about the danger,” said Glynne Dee Strube of the West Lake Landfill Group. “I wish our government cared about the people.”