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7:49 pm
Thu June 19, 2014

Bridgeton Landfill Owner Agrees To New Measures To Monitor Underground Fire And Control Odors

The southeast corner of the Bridgeton Landfill, showing the plastic cap intended to keep gases from escaping.
The southeast corner of the Bridgeton Landfill, showing the plastic cap intended to keep gases from escaping.
Credit Missouri Department of Natural Resources

 UPDATED 6/20/14 to correct description of radioactivity testing along waste haul routes.

Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster has reached a new agreement with Bridgeton Landfill owner Republic Services.

It includes additional measures that Republic must take to monitor the movement of an underground fire at the landfill and to control the foul odors ― and potentially toxic gases ― emanating from it.

Those measures include:

  • Building a back-up flare system to help burn off gases from the landfill 24 hours a day;
  • Purchasing more reliable sensors to detect odors at the landfill, and increasing the frequency of odor monitoring;
  • Looking for additional odor-removal technologies;
  • Testing gases underneath the plastic cap that covers the south quarry for toxic substances; this will now happen three times over the next 13 months instead of just once a year;
  • Providing a map every month to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources and emergency responders, showing how the topography of the south quarry is changing as the fire burns underground; this will help to map the spread of the fire and assess the potential for sudden cave-ins;
  • Conducting additional carbon monoxide testing to monitor the progress of the fire, as follows:
    • Testing for carbon monoxide once a month in the narrow neck-area separating the south quarry (where the underground fire is located) and the north quarry (where the radioactive waste is located);
    • Testing for carbon monoxide every other month in the north quarry; the frequency of testing would increase to every month if any temperature readings exceed 145 degrees Fahrenheit;
    • Testing for carbon monoxide in the south quarry every other month;
  • Installing a vapor recovery system to trap gases released when Republic pumps contaminated liquids from the landfill into removal trucks;
  • Closing and removing tanks formerly used to treat contaminated liquids at the landfill;
  • Having Republic Services reimburse the state up to $1.49 million for monitoring and oversight of the landfill; this represents an increase of about $600,000 over the previous agreement.

The Missouri attorney general's office first sued Republic Services last year to try to get the company to do more to control the fire and its noxious gases. The latest amendment to the lawsuit settlement was signed Thursday in St. Louis County Circuit Court.

Mo. Attorney General Chris Koster speaks to reporters about Thursday's amended lawsuit settlement with Republic Services.
Mo. Attorney General Chris Koster speaks to reporters about Thursday's amended lawsuit settlement with Republic Services.
Credit Parth Shah, St. Louis Public Radio

Koster said the new requirements were spurred in part by the detection of benzene ― a known carcinogen ― at the landfill late last month.

He said the back-up flare system should help prevent that from happening again.

“The problem that occurred last month is that the flaring system was down temporarily,” Koster said. “That is why we've put emphasis on making sure that this flaring system is working 24 hours a day, and in fact a back-up flaring system is built to ensure this thing never goes down.”

In a written statement, Republic Services said it hopes the new agreement “will begin to bring some peace of mind to the surrounding community that odors have been vastly reduced.” The company said it remains committed to its community, and that it will “continue to do everything within our power to be a good and responsible neighbor.”

As part of the lawsuit settlement, Republic still needs to build a barrier to prevent the underground fire at the Bridgeton Landfill from reaching radioactive material at the adjacent West Lake Landfill.

Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Koster expressed his impatience with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which is responsible for testing the landfill for radioactivity to determine where that barrier can be safely built and for overseeing its construction.

That construction has been delayed because the EPA has detected radiation over a larger area of the landfill than expected.

Koster said there is still no established timeline for the firebreak project.

"I remain frustrated with EPA that I am not getting solid answers as to when the construction will begin and when it ends,” Koster said. “I am very hopeful that they will move more aggressively in the coming weeks."

In a written statement, the EPA said the complexity of the scientific and engineering work required by the project makes assigning timelines “extremely difficult.”

The federal agency has regulatory authority over the West Lake Landfill, which is a Superfund site.

Koster also accused the EPA of failing to provide the results of radioactivity testing along the routes used to haul radioactive material to the West Lake Landfill in the 1970s. The EPA says that testing was conducted by the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, not the EPA.

Earlier this month, Koster’s office submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the EPA and the Army Corps to try to obtain that information. Koster said he either wants to see the original data, or have the EPA order new radioactivity testing of the 1970s haul routes surrounding the West Lake Landfill.

The EPA said it is in the process of responding to the Attorney General's request.

Follow Véronique LaCapra on Twitter@KWMUScience