The managing company for the Bridgeton Landfill said it will construct an “isolation barrier” to separate radiation-contaminated material at the West Lake Landfill Superfund Site only 1,000 feet away, according to the EPA.

In December 2010, an underground fire was detected at the inactive 52-acre Bridgeton Landfill. Last fall, residents and environmental activists started complaining about an awful odor and raised questions about health concerns. The Missouri Department of Natural Resources conducted air tests and found that the fire was letting off harmful gases. The air testing showed increased levels of benzene, a known carcinogen, and hydrogen sulfide, a neurotoxin. 

Many in the region are also fearful that the Bridgeton fire will move towards radioactive waste buried in West Lake Landfill and endanger the entire St. Louis area.  

EPA Region 7 Administrator Karl Brooks said the agency has not yet seen the detailed plans for the barrier that Republic Services proposes to construct. Science and engineering experts will review formal plans when they receive them, he said.

Dumped illegally in 1973, the radioactive waste from Mallinckrodt Chemical Works’ production of uranium for atomic bombs during the 1940s is buried in the West Lake landfill, west of Interstate 270 on St. Charles Rock Road.

Missouri Coalition for the Environment (MCE) has been long advocated for the federal government to remove the radioactive waste, which is located in the river floodplain. Coalition leader Ed Smith said the removal of the radioactive wastes “is the only guaranteed plan to ensure the current, or future subsurface landfill fire, will not hit the concentrated volumes of the originally deposited radioactive material at the Bridgeton/West Lake Landfill.”

On May 14, Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster announced that his office had negotiated a legal order with Republic Services, “requiring the company to take a series of steps to contain and control odorous gases at the Bridgeton Landfill, address the underground smoldering, and provide temporary relocation assistance to local residents affected by the odors,” according to the EPA.

The state’s legal order also requires Republic Services to compensate the Missouri Department of Natural Resources for its costs related to environmental sampling and monitoring.

Smith and other advocates criticized Koster’s negotiations with the company. In an Aug. 28 letter to the Department of Natural Resources, Smith stated that Republic Services’ contingency plan, submitted on Aug. 13, demonstrated the company’s “inability or unwillingness to put public health and safety first.”

In the letter, Smith stated that the coalition supported the creation of an “isolation system in the neck of the landfill.” They warned against allowing Republic Services to drive the project schedule and agenda in preventing this health and environmental catastrophe.

“MCE continues to support the full removal of Republic Services from primary decision-making processes at the landfill,” Smith said, “because Republic puts the interests of the company ahead of the local communities it has adversely impacted for more than a year.”

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