The underground fire at the West Lake landfill in Bridgeton Mo has smoldered and spread since 2010. Repeated appeals to the Federal, Missouri and Environmental Protection Agency have been ignored. Now the fire is approximately 1,000 feet from uncontained nuclear waste. Missouri Attorney Chris Koster has again called on the EPA “to step up to the plate”.
“There are aspects of this situation that are at this point beyond human ability to solve them. No one I am aware of knows how to put out the fire. That is the single biggest challenge we face right now,” Koster said.
The underground fire at Bridgeton Landfill, owned by Republic Services has been smoldering since 2010 with radioactive waste buried at West Lake Landfill next to it. Republic Services also own the West Lake Landfill. The West Lake facility was contaminated with radioactive waste from uranium processing by a St. Louis company known as Mallinckrodt Chemical. The waste was illegally dumped in 1973 and includes material that dates back to the Manhattan Project, which created the first atomic bomb in the 1940s. The Environmental Protection Agency is still deciding how to clean up the waste. The landfill was designated a Superfund site in 1990. A Superfund site is any land in the United States that has been contaminated by hazardous waste and identified by the EPA as a candidate for cleanup because it poses a risk to human health and/or the environment.
Government officials have quietly adopted an emergency plan in case the smoldering embers ever reach the waste, a potentially “catastrophic event” that could send up a plume of radioactive smoke over a densely populated area near the city’s main airport. However, the nuclear plume will affect the greater St. Louis area, even those areas that are 20 or more miles from the St. Louis Lambert field.
The Missouri Coalition for the Environment (MCE) believes that the St. Louis Army Corps of Engineers should be employed for the clean up because of their expertise and training in environmental waste disposal and containment. The MCE believes that the West Lake landfill fire poses a threat not only to the residential community close to the landfill, but also to water contamination in the Missouri River, and ultimately the Mississippi River. The West Lake landfill is only a few miles east of the Missouri River, and groundwater seepage is a real threat. The seepage can be carried by the Missouri River into the Mississippi River where the two bodies of water converge.
The MCE says it supports the safe removal of the radioactive wastes from the West Lake Landfill because the EPA's 2008 decision to "cap-and-leave" the wastes will remain a constant threat to our drinking water, public health, and our environment. The safe removal of the illegally dumped radioactive wastes is necessary because the West Lake Landfill:
- was never designed to permanently store radioactive material,
- has no liner separating the radioactive material from the groundwater,
- is in the floodplain of the Missouri River,
- is upstream from St. Louis regional drinking water intakes,
- is in an urban area,
- is vulnerable to earthquakes,
- is threatened by a smoldering landfill fire or future fires,
- is susceptible to tornadoes, and
- is at a site never designed to temporarily or permanently store radioactive material.