A lawsuit filed on Friday alleges that radiation from the West Lake Landfill has spread into surrounding neighborhoods, contaminating properties there.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency maintains that the public is not at risk.
Attorney Daniel Finney, Jr., filed the suit on behalf of John James, who has lived near the landfill in Bridgeton for more than 30 years.
The suit against landfill owner Republic Services, Mallinckrodt, the Cotter Corporation and others seeks class action status for anyone owning property within a three-mile radius of the landfill.
Finney said recent independent testing of nearby properties has detected radiation at levels that would require remediation. The attorney declined to say who had done the testing.
But Ed Smith of the Missouri Coalition for the Environment said Friday’s legal action is based on preliminary sampling by his group. He stressed that the Coalition is not involved in the lawsuit.
Smith said his group does plan further radiation testing in the neighborhoods around the landfill, but he was not willing to provide any details about its scope, saying that would be premature.
Smith said his organization had initiated the testing because concerns raised by area residents about radioactive contamination from the landfill have so far gone unaddressed by the EPA.
A spokesperson for Republic Services' subsidiary Bridgeton Landfill, LLC ― which is also named as a defendant in the suit ― said the EPA "has determined and recently confirmed that nobody can be exposed to radiation from West Lake outside the barbed-wire fence that surrounds the site." He said the company expects to move to dismiss the suit "for failure to state a legally-sufficient claim."
Finney said he believes the lawsuit "will force the responsible agencies to get off the dime and do comprehensive testing of the surrounding area."
A spokesperson for the EPA said the agency had not seen the lawsuit and does not comment on ongoing litigation. But he said that "all validated scientific data available to EPA establishes that current conditions at the site are protective of public health," and that the agency "continues its enforcement actions to ensure work progresses toward installation of the isolation barrier and implementation of a final remedy."
The EPA is testing for radioactivity at the landfill complex itself, in preparation for building an "isolation barrier" to keep an underground fire in the adjacent Bridgeton Landfill from reaching the radioactive waste at West Lake.
So far, EPA's test results have found radioactive waste about 900 feet from the underground fire.
Construction of the fire break is scheduled to begin in late June. The EPA is working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on the project.
Follow Véronique LaCapra on Twitter: @KWMUScience