Coalition Report

by Kathleen Logan Smith
Director of Environmental Policy Coalition For The Environment

Let’s Take Ownership for a Healthier Region: Two Top Ten Lists

Here’s what we know:
About 40,000 tons of radioactively contaminated nuclear weapons waste (Uranium-235, Thorium, Thallium, and dozens of other radionuclides) were dumped in the northern portion of the West Lake Landfill on St. Charles Rock Road in Bridgeton near Earth City in 1973. It is not contained in any way underneath, where it encounters groundwater, or above, except for the shrubs and trees that have overgrown it. You can learn more at www.moenviron.org

In the southern portion of the landfill which is known as the Bridgeton Landfill, a landfill fire has been smoldering and spreading since at least December 2010.

The owner of the Bridgeton Landfill, Republic Services, has been unable to contain the spread of the fire. Safety features at the landfill have been compromised because of the fire.

The Missouri Attorney General, who is pursuing Republic on several environmental law violations and nuisance claims, admitted on May 14 that the distance between the fire and the northern portion where the radioactive waste lies, was about 1,000 feet.
Missouri officials told the public in January that the distance was 1,200 feet.

The landfill fire emits a terrible stench, along with some chemicals that pose health risks.

There are about 40,000-50,000 people living with 3 miles of the site where the landfill fire odor has been reported in both St. Louis and St. Charles County, including schools, a university, hospitals, the Verizon amphitheater, Earth City, and scores of businesses.

Removing the radioactive waste will cost an estimated $500 million, an amount less than the annual profits in 2012 ($571.8 million) of Republic Services, which is just one of several companies responsible for the radioactive clean up.

The Environmental Protection Agency indicated in its Record of Decision and other documents in 2008 and prior that it believed the radioactive particles would not move in groundwater.

The EPA’s 2012 groundwater study at the site showed the presence of Uranium 235 at levels above ‘background’ levels in groundwater monitoring wells far from the northern portion of the site. The same study shows Radium 226 and Radium 228 above “Maximum Contaminant Levels” in the South quarry where the fire is located.

Here’s what we don’t know and are trying to learn:

At what levels would contaminants in the air trigger warnings, evacuations, shut down of the airport, or other precautions, including more aggressive interventions in the landfill fire or nuclear weapons waste removal.

Who would be notified about airborne hazards, when, and how.

What agencies or organizations would be involved in keeping the community safe.

How fast the fire is advancing.

How the Uranium 235 came to be in the monitoring wells remote from the nuclear weapons wastes.

How much it would cost to ensure the landfill fire does not reach the area of the nuclear weapons wastes.

How much damage the people are suffering from health costs from respiratory problems, lost property values and the inability to conduct normal business or go outside their own homes.

How much radioactivity would be released into the air if the landfill fire entered the mass where the nuclear weapons waste lie.

Whether the air monitoring network is sufficient and robust enough to detect airborne radiological hazards.

How the data from the air monitoring network would be distributed and communicated.

What is certain is this: Pretending the nuclear weapons waste problem in St. Louis will go away or solve itself is a dangerous delusion. Removing those wastes should not be done in a mad rush- it poses hazards of its own and should be done surgically. Removing the nuclear weapons wastes is preferred to any scenario that causes those materials to become airborne, no matter the cost.

Elected officials at all levels have been dodging this issue for decades. Each passing year, the nuclear weapons waste situation at West Lake gets more expensive to clean up, less easy to contain. It will, because of the mixture of radiological materials, become more radioactive over the next 9,000years. We are the generation that must address this site. If our leaders will not lead, we must intervene for the sake of our children and their future. Time is not on our side.

You can learn more at www.moenviron.org or on the community’s “West Lake Landfill” Facebook group or see the feature “St. Louis is Burning” by Steven Hsieh in Rolling Stone magazine May 10, 2013.