A faulty electrical pole caused a small brush fire yesterday afternoon (Oct. 24) at the West Lake Landfill, where the radioactive waste from Mallinckrodt Chemical Works’ production of uranium for atomic bombs was illegally dumped in the 1970s.
The Pattonville and Robertson Fire Districts quickly extinguished the fire, according to a statement from the Environmental Protection Agency Region 7 Office.
The landfills – located near the intersection of Interstates 270 and 70 – have garnered international attention in recent years. Since 2010, a high-temperature underground chemical reaction has been smoldering in the Bridgeton Landfill, about 1,000 feet from where the radioactive waste is buried. At a recent community meeting, nearby residents said they fear for their lives if the chemical reaction were to spread and come in contact with the radioactive waste. St. Louis County’s emergency management leader Mark Diedrich said at that meeting that he did not know how catastrophic the impact would be if the two did ever come in contact.
Saturday’s fire supposedly resulted from a malfunctioning electrical switch on an electrical pole near the intersection of St. Charles Rock and Tassuig roads. Earlier today (Oct. 25), EPA emergency response specialists were deployed to the site of the fire, according to the EPA’s statement.
“Personnel will be in the field today taking samples from the surrounding area to confirm there is not a release of contaminants,” it stated. “The fire did not reach the West Lake Landfill. The Pattonville Fire District conducted air monitoring during the event.”
The Missouri Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) – which is responsible for monitoring the landfills – reviewed data from its monitors located near the landfills, “and the readings stayed consistent with background,” according to the EPA. One system was located directly across the street (St. Charles Rock Road) where some of the smoke drifted.
Soon after the fire started, residents posted photos of the fire on social media.
State Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, who has been a strong proponent of getting the waste removed from the landfill, posted a statement on Twitter.
“Today, one of our fears came true about West Lake,” she stated. “An incident unrelated above ground put firefighters in harm’s way in the vicinity of radioactive material.”
Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster also released a statement on Sunday afternoon.
“As yesterday’s brush fire reminds us, flames can surface in unexpected places without warning,” he stated. “EPA says it is moving toward a final protective remedy. It must implement that remedy without delay.”
Koster filed suit against the landfill owner, Republic Services Inc., to hold the company accountable for the “oppressive stench” caused by the smoldering landfill, he said, and for the pollution the landfill fire has caused to Missouri’s natural resources.
“While there has been much back-and-forth over the past few weeks over how dangerous the landfill might be, at least three things are certain: The landfill is still burning, it still stinks, and Republic hasn’t paid for the environmental damage it has done,” he said.
The lawsuit it schedule to go to trial in March 2016.
EPA said it is consulting with MDNR and local response authorities regarding a thorough review of contingency planning, personnel and equipment located at the landfill.
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