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Documents sought on radioactive landfill fire

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Posted: Wednesday, October 23, 2013 8:15 pm

The Missouri Coalition for the Environment held a community meeting last Thursday alerting residents to what organizers described as a “shocking discovery” at the West Lake Landfill Superfund Site in Bridgeton.  

Researching documents on the landfill, independent researcher Debi Disser discovered that the current fire smoldering underground near the landfill, which contains radioactive waste from the Manhattan Project, is not the first fire there. A previous fire at the site 1993-4 was smothered using what Ed Smith, safe energy director at the coalition, described as “a concrete slurry cap.”

“It was shocking to us, to be perfectly honest,” Smith said at a public meeting held at the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 513.

The coalition and Dawn Chapman, a local environmentalist, have submitted Sunshine Law requests to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources seeking a report compiled on the previous incident. Because it has jurisdiction over the Superfund site, Smith said, the report was later submitted to Region 7 of the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

According to Smith, the coalition wants to know the location of the previous fire, whether the EPA knew about it, and whether the agency believed the fire posed a threat when it disclosed its plan to cap the radioactive waste.

“We’re trying to gather as much information as we possibly can,” Smith said, “so we know what to expect moving forward.”

By moving forward, he means dealing with the existing fire, or “sub-surface smoldering event,” currently burning deep within the Bridgeton (formerly Sanitary) Landfill only 1,000 feet away from radioactive waste. That problem is being dealt with by Republic Services, owner of the Bridgeton Landfill, which has committed to constructing an “isolation barrier” to separate the radioactive waste at the West Lake Landfill from the fire at its own site, according to the EPA.

State Rep. Rory Ellinger recently hosted a panel discussion on the landfill fire at the Heman Park Community Center. Chapman was on the panel that also included Matt Lavanchy, assistant fire chief of Pattonville Fire Protection District, and Kay Drey, co-founder of the Missouri Coalition for the Environment. 

Drey, who has been advocating about radioactive waste for 40 years, said there is only one way to deal with the landfill fire: complete removal of the radioactive waste by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Smith said removal of the radioactive waste “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.”

“The wind blows all that stuff,” said Abbie Carter, a University City resident. “It’s in our water. So, what can we do? We can’t get away from it, and nobody’s doing anything about it.”

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