Coalition Report

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

Smell The Change

The first delicious smell this spring was the wild plum blossoms. Then came the honey locust trees whose fragrance was so strong their sweet scents wafted for a block. The shrubs bloomed next with lilac reminding us of grandmothers’ backyards. Then came the scent of the mock orange bushes. Still, little competes with the stubborn mimosa tree blooming this summer with its showy, hot pink tufts of orangey scent that can be smelled three houses away.

As much joy as fragrances of each season brings, the odor that has driven much of our work this spring is an acrid, chemical smell touched with the sickly smell of rot. The odor alone has driven residents who live near Interstates 270 and 70 into their homes, out of their parks, yards and gardens. The chemical components in the fumes from the West Lake/Bridgeton landfill fire have aggravated breathing problems, triggered asthma attacks, and prompted people to change their plans. The fumes include carcinogens like dioxin and benzene and neurotoxins like hydrogen sulfide. Never before has wind direction factored so much into this community’s quality of life. On days when the wind is from the east, you can almost forget about the landfill fire and resume your normal life, unless you are downwind in St. Charles. On days when you are downwind, life is changed.

The landfill fire at the West Lake/Bridgeton landfill has been burning since 2010. Technically, the fire is called a “subsurface smoldering event”. By any other name, it smells as foul.

The fire is on the move. Efforts are underway to intercept the smoldering event to prevent it from reaching an area contaminated with radioactive nuclear weapons production wastes, also in the same landfill. The radioactive waste is not contained. It is in the Missouri River floodplain. It is in groundwater. It is upstream from St. Louis drinking water. It is in a seismic zone and tornado alley. Removing the wastes responsibly is essential, however it is not easy. And the price goes up every day it is delayed.

To anyone reading this for the first time, it sounds incredible doesn’t it? Radioactive nuclear weapons production wastes? Here? To students of history and government, it demonstrates the dark side of our nuclear policies – the side the profit-makers do not want you to know.

This summer, while you work to bring health to yourself and your family, join us to help bring long-term health to our region that still bears the weight of nuclear weapons 68 years after the atomic bombs were dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In August, remember that our nation’s bomb making enterprise created the radioactive waste legacy that we are still battling. On August 6th, the anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing, recall the price we continue to pay for our nuclear stockpile. On August 9th, the anniversary of the Nagasaki bombing, consider whether we can be responsible as a nation for any new nuclear devices.

You can get involved in healing our community by connecting with the West Lake Landfill group on Facebook, volunteering, spreading the word, making calls to elected officials, staying informed, joining our efforts, promoting solar and wind power, and supporting the Missouri Coalition for the Environment. Whatever your role, take a stand so that our grandchildren can breathe easier.

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.