Flood plains
4:12 pm
Tue June 25, 2013

EPA Says Situation At West Lake Landfill Is Safe, Groups Concerned About Waste Near Floodplains

Hundreds of people pack the Pattonville High School auditorium for an update on fire that's burning near radioactive waste buried at the West Lake Landfill.
Hundreds of people pack the Pattonville High School auditorium for an update on fire that's burning near radioactive waste buried at the West Lake Landfill.

There remains no public health threat from an underground fire at the Bridgeton Landfill that is burning near radioactive waste that was illegally buried at the nearby West Lake Landfill.

That was the message delivered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to hundreds of residents who packed the Pattonville High School in north St. Louis County Tuesday night.

“The water people drink is safe, the air they breathe is safe, the landfill material at the West Lake site remains where it’s been for a long period of time,” said EPA Region 7 Administrator Karl Brooks.  “Provided people observe the fence and the signs, the radiation at that site does not threaten their public health.”

Brooks said the EPA along with state agencies have adequate time to determine the best way to protect the radioactive material from a fire that’s slowly creeping toward it.  He did not give specifics as to how much time they have until a final decision must be reached, and he was not sure if there is currently a threat to wildlife in the area.

Brooks said because it is classified as a Superfund site, the EPA has the authority to “compel” the polluters that originally buried the waste, one of which he said was the U.S. Department of Energy, to pay for whatever solution is ultimately required.

Many people at the meeting angrily questioned the EPA’s assessment of the situation, and demanded that the radioactive waste be removed immediately.  Others asked if their kids are safe and what the long-term risks are.  

Beth Pross said it seems like they’re getting the run-around.

“They give us slow access to the test data, they get plenty of time to scrub it up and redefine the formulas on how they interpret it,” Pross said.  “Then they say everything is wonderful and fine, that’s not acceptable.” 

Floodplain Concerns 

Environmental activists hold a map showing why they oppose putting hazardous waste in floodplains. The image on the right shows the reach of the Flood of 1993.
Environmental activists hold a map showing why they oppose putting hazardous waste in floodplains. The image on the right shows the reach of the Flood of 1993.
Credit Rachel Lippmann / St. Louis Public Radio

  Local environmental groups are encouraging the public to speak out against the practice of putting toxic waste in the floodplains of the Missouri River.

The Missouri Public Service Commission is holding a hearing tonight to take public input on Ameren Missouri's request to build a coal ash landfill in Franklin County, in the Missouri River floodplain. Also tonight, the Environmental Protection Agency is releasing the findings of radiological testing it did near the West Lake site in Bridgeton.

Ed Smith, with the Missouri Coalition for the Environment, says the danger posed by West Lake shows why the state should reject Ameren’s request for a coal ash landfill.

"MCE is concerned because floodplains flood," he said. "It’s time institutions that govern our waterways start protecting them and people, instead of choosing to create new problems in our floodplains and let current problems fester."

In addition to being in a floodplain, the radioactive waste stored in the West Lake landfill is close to an underground fire.

Patricia Schuba with the Labadie Environmental Organization has been protesting the proposed coal ash landfill for years. It would sit in an area that flooded in 1993.

The country makes sure to put the waste from nuclear power plants inside a "stone fortress" so it doesn't cause any harm, Schuba said. 

"But we seem to think these radioactive chemicals and heavy metals that impact our children, that they’re okay to put right here in this water. And that’s insane," she said.

Follow Tim Lloyd on Twitter: @TimSLloyd

Follow Rachel Lippmann on Twitter: @rlippmann