Hazardous waste shipments pose no threat, officials say
June 15, 2005 - Shipments of hazardous waste began traveling through south county last week, but a company spokesman and local officials said there is nothing to fear.
The truck convoys will bypass the city of St. Louis by taking Highway 270 south on their route from a former uranium processing facility in Cincinnati, Ohio, to a storage facility in Andrews, Texas.
Fluor Fernald, the contractor responsible for cleaning up the plant for the Department of Energy, said it expects the shipments to continue until December.
Mehlville Fire Protection District Chief Jim Silvernail said the low-level radioactive material being transported poses a low risk.
"No, I'm not worried about this," he said. "I have a lot of other stuff that goes down this highway that is just as bad. Think of every filling station in this community, we probably have a 10,000-gallon tanker that's coming right down Lindbergh to fill up every one of these filling stations. I'd be more worried about 10,000 gallons of gasoline rolling down Lindbergh than one of these trucks on the highway."
The waste that is being shipped to Texas is an uranium byproduct composed of radium, thorium, lead, polonium and actinium, which has been stabilized with fly ash and Portland cement. The treated waste is in a solid form and will be transported in steel cylinders that meet the Department of Transportation guidelines, according to a Fluor Fernald press release.
Dave Hinaman, a spokesman for Fluor Fernald, said that the company estimates that it will take 2,000 flatbed truck loads to transport the 4,000 waste-filled containers.
"The big thing is that it's all within DOT levels," Hinaman said. "That was very important for us to meet those levels and actually to be below them."
The trucks will enter Missouri from Illinois, cross the Jefferson Barracks bridge and continue on Highway 270 to Interstate 44 until they leave Missouri. This route was selected based on travel time, distance and population to minimize risk, according to the press release.
Fluor Fernald did not contact the Mehlville Fire Protection District ahead of time to inform district officials about the types of waste they would have to deal with in case there was an accident. Instead, Silver-nail said he first found out from the media.
"I don't care how safe they say it is, if something happens, I'm the one who's going to have to calm the community down for the fire district here," Silvernail said. "It's not a very good feeling to pull up on a bunch of trucks that have radioactive placards on them and now all of sudden you have to do what you have to do, and you don't even know what's in there."
When asked why the company had not contacted the fire district, Hinaman said Fluor Fernald contacted each state's legislators to tell them they would be passing through so that they may disseminate the information instead of contacting each county.
"We've made contact with state legislators within the state and you think of every little town and every little state we go through, we can't really do that, and the state regulators are the best way to spread information throughout the state," Hinaman said.
Since finding out about the transport, Silvernail said his fire district has been informed about the convoys and the types of materials that are being transported.
Assistant Chief Steve Mossotti said the fire district is prepared for any hazardous waste emergency. The Mehlville Fire Protection District has 22 hazardous material technicians that are a part of the St. Louis County Hazardous Materials Emer-gency Response Team.
"We do have trained people who know how to recognize, identify, and deal with the material," Mossotti said. "We would call the team in to bring all the necessary tools and equipment that we need, but our chief officers and other technicians would be able to assess the situation and determine the need to evacuate, restrict the area of traffic and secure it until the other groups can come and deal with the material and move it off."
Silvernail said that if the hazardous material is involved in an accident, the deputy chief in charge would notify the St. Louis County Haz-Mat team, as well as the Environmental Protection Agency, the DOE and Fluor Fernald.
Mossotti said it was unlikely that the department will have to go through these measures because each waste container is sealed and secured to the trucks.
Drivers on Highway 270 also do not need to be worried about radiation exposure, Hinaman said. The DOT limits each shipment to 200 millirems of radiation per hour on contact and 10 mrem per hour at two meters. Hinaman said the first shipment from Fluor Fernald measured at about 40 mrem of radiation per hour on contact and 3 mrem at two meters. To compare, when a person receives a CAT scan they are exposed to 110 mrem, he said.
The waste is being transported to Texas for interim storage at the Waste Control facility, which was awarded a $7.5 million contract. Waste Control Specialist is pursuing a license to permanently dispose of the material at the same facility.
Fluor Fernald was contracted by the DOE to clean up the Feed Materials Production Center, which was contracted in 1952 by the DOE to produce uranium for national defense programs. Hinaman said that about half of the 8,900 cubic yards of waste being transporting through St. Louis actually was originally from St. Louis. It is the leftovers of the Mallinckrodt Chemical Works, which produced uranium during the Cold War.