April 26, 2017 (STL.News) In December of 2010 and underground fire was discovered at the West Lake Landfill. The Landfill, owned by a subsidiary of Republic Services, is located at 13570 St. Charles Rock Road, Bridgeton MO 63044. The area is made up of several solid waste and construction/demolition waste fill areas that are no longer active. The site was originally used for agriculture, then in 1939 the land began being used as a quarry for limestone. It was in the early 1950s that portions of the land began being used for municipal refuse, construction/demolition debris, and industrial solid wastes. In 1973, around 8,700 tons of leached barium sulfate was mixed with approximately 38,000 tons of soil, which was then used to cover trash that was being dumped. The land is currently separated into two separate landfills; the West Lake Landfill and the Bridgeton Landfill, where the leached barium sulfate waste was dumped.
Barium sulfate is a Radiographic Contrast Agent. It was dumped as a result of the Manhattan Project. The Manhattan Project was America’s first research into design and build an Atomic Bomb. The result was the world’s first atomic bomb which, in 1945, was tested in Alamogordo, New Mexico. Further testing into nuclear bombs and weapons led to the leached barium sulfate that was dumped at the West Lake landfill.
In 1980 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) passed the Comprehensive, Environmental, Response, Compensation and Liability Act, also known as the Superfund Law. The EPA listed the entire 200-acre West Lake Landfill and Bridgeton Landfills as super-fund sites in 1990 and designated the area into three Operable Units (OU) in order to create a more manageable the site. The EPA is continuing to monitor the site and work to clear potential dangers to the areas where radiologically impacted material has been found.
Since the discovery of the burn in 2010, Republic Services has spent approximately $200 million in efforts to fight the fire. They have installed pipes to control the temperature to the burn by sending cooling fluids throughout the landfill. Even with these measures being taken, in October of 2016, The Missouri Department of Natural Resource conducted a sampling of the site. The state found that there was “statistically significant evidence of contamination” that was affecting the groundwater at and around the landfill. Officials wrote a letter requesting that Republic Services pursue “corrective measures” to mitigate the impact of the underground fire. The department stated that the spread of the fire has slowed, but is still moving at a rate of about six inches per day.
Also in 2016, St. Louis County conducted a health survey of the residents who lived within a two-mile residence of the Bridgeton Landfill, where the burn is located. The County determined that the burn was not associated with breathing disorders but that the residents around the site had an elevated stress level. Due to these findings the owner of the landfill agreed to pay the residents of 34 homes near the landfill for use of their properties and the loss of enjoyment.
Recently, on April 13th, 2017, Missouri senators voted to approve Senator Maria Chappell-Nadal’s Bill. The bill will allow $12.5 million to buyout the homes of residents within a three-mile radius of the burn. It is possible that the groundwater around the site may have high levels of dissolved radium, because of this the homes are considered uninhabitable due to contamination. The EPA still claims that despite the radioactive waste and the underground fire, the risk to the public has not increased. The EPA continues to monitor the air quality and groundwater around the landfill areas.
Fears, Darryl. “An underground fire is burning near a nuclear waste dump, and officials say EPA has been too slow to react.” The Washington Post. WP Company, 16 Feb. 2016. Web. 13 Apr. 2017.
Kormann, Katie. “Senators approve home buyouts aimed at Bridgeton, West Lake landfills.” FOX2now.com. N.p., 13 Apr. 2017. Web. 13 Apr. 2017.
Post-Dispatch, Bryce GraySt. Louis. “Missouri identifies new groundwater contamination at and surrounding Bridgeton Landfill.” Stltoday.com. N.p., 16 Nov. 2016. Web. 20 Apr. 2017.
Thomas, Shawndrea. “Owners of Bridgeton Landfill reach settlement with nearby homeowners.” FOX2now.com. N.p., 23 Sep. 2016. Web. 13 Apr. 2017.
Ushistory.org. “The Manhattan Project.” U.S. History Online Textbook. Independence Hall Association, n.d. Web. 20 Apr. 2017.
“West Lake Landfill.” EPA. Environmental Protection Agency, 18 Apr. 2017. Web. 20 Apr. 2017.