Nuclear Waste | St. Louis Public Radio

Nuclear Waste

The West Lake Landfill, in the distance, sits adjacent to the Bridgeton Landfill, right.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated at 12:10 p.m. Sept. 28 — The Environmental Protection Agency has finalized its plan to remove radioactive waste from the West Lake Landfill Superfund site.

The chosen solution will remove about 70 percent of the site’s radioactivity and dispose of the waste at an out-of-state facility. The $205 million plan is similar, though less expensive, to what officials proposed in February.

The West Lake Landfill, seen from St. Charles Rock Road in Bridgeton.
File Photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated March 5 with new public comments deadline  The Environmental Protection Agency has released the full details of its proposal to remove radioactive waste from the West Lake Landfill. The agency will make a final decision after a public comment period.

The West Lake Landfill, in the distance, sits adjacent to the Bridgeton Landfill.
File Photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated on March 5 to note new deadline for public comments  — The Environmental Protection Agency has released its plan for cleaning up radioactive waste at West Lake Landfill.

But officials say they still want to hear from community members on all the proposed remedies, not just the one the agency selected.

The EPA asked for feedback on three elements of its plan: Does the EPA’s proposed excavation plan address public concerns regarding the thoroughness of the removal? How should excavation differ between waste areas? And, where should the radioactive material go after it’s removed? Access all the plan’s documents on the EPA’s website.

Residents who live near West Lake Landfill gathered at John Calvin Presbyterian Church in Bridgeton after the EPA announced its remediation plan. (Feb 1, 2018)
Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

When the Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday announced its plan to remove much of the radioactive waste from the West Lake Landfill, some activists and residents celebrated.

But many residents expressed frustration and disappointment that only some of the waste would be removed before the site is covered. They said they’re still concerned about groundwater contamination, which might not be prevented by a partial removal, and worried that they might not be able to move away if the government doesn’t come up with a buyout plan. Some still don’t trust that the EPA can deliver on its promises.

The West Lake Landfill, in the distance, sits adjacent to the Bridgeton Landfill, right.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

The Environmental Protection Agency proposal to partially remove nuclear weapons waste from a northwest St. Louis County landfill marks a major shift in approach to a problem that’s plagued residents for decades.

Since 1990, federal officials have either passed the buck on remediating West Lake Landfill or proposed building a cap over the site, which does little to prevent the tons of radioactive waste from contaminating groundwater.

On Thursday, EPA head Scott Pruitt announced his “Excavation Plus” proposal to remove much of the waste, which is about 600 feet from an underground fire in the adjacent Bridgeton Landfill, and permanently cover the rest.

Here's a guide to our coverage.

Flares at the Bridgeton Landfill are used to burn off smelly underground gases.
File Photo | Véronique LaCapra | St. Louis Public Radio

The Environmental Protection Agency is expected to soon announce its plans to clean up the waste in West Lake Landfill. For people who live near the landfill in north St. Louis County, the decision couldn’t come soon enough, as the waste sits approximately 600 feet from an underground smoldering fire.

The landfill has been on the EPA’s National Priorities List since 1990. Eighteen years later, the EPA under the administration of President George W. Bush recommended capping the landfill. The waste has sat at the site since its former owner, Cotter Corporation, dumped it there in 1973.

EPA officials may decide to remove the waste entirely, remove it in part, or cap the site.

Rebecca Cammisa, the director of "Atomic Homefront."
Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio

"Atomic Homefront" director Rebecca Cammisa grew up in New York and had long been familiar with environmental remediation efforts there before she first came to St. Louis to shoot a film about the legacy of nuclear waste here.

Her documentary, which was acquired by HBO, and will be screened tonight at the St. Louis Filmmakers Showcase, charts the history of atomic waste in St. Louis associated with the Manhattan Project and the citizen activist movement here to have it dealt with.

This photo of Coldwater Creek flooding was taken from the Dunn Road bridge on Monday.
Paul A. Huddleston

A north St. Louis County park is now clean of radioactive material from the nearby contaminated Coldwater Creek, now that remediation by the Army Corps of Engineers is complete. 

An underground fire has been smoldering in the Bridgeton Landfill for five years, about 1,000 feet away from tons of nuclear waste in the adjacent West Lake Landfill.
Véronique LaCapra | St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis Public Radio has been following developments at a landfill complex in St. Louis County, where for five years an underground fire has been smoldering at the Bridgeton Landfill, about 1,000 feet away from radioactive waste at the adjacent West Lake Landfill.

The situation is unique, and we thought it merited national attention. You can listen to our national update below, or read the story at npr.org.

This radiation warning sign is one of many posted on the chain link fence surrounding part of the West Lake Landfill in Bridgeton, Mo.
File photo | Sarah Skiold-Hanlin | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated at 5 p.m., Oct. 20 with new information -- St. Louis Public Radio is updating this FAQ to describe what we know — and don't know — about the Bridgeton and West Lake landfills. We'll continue to add to it based on your input and as new information becomes available.

In March 2014, we first published this story to help answer some key questions about the situation at this complex of landfills in north St. Louis County.

A lot has happened since then — but in many ways, not much has changed.

Ameren's Callaway reactor is the only commercial nuclear power plant in Missouri.
Missouri Coalition for the Environment

The Missouri Coalition for the Environment has filed a petition to intervene with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to try to keep the NRC from relicensing Ameren's Callaway Nuclear Power Plant.

Ameren's Callaway reactor is the only commercial nuclear power plant in Missouri.
Missouri Coalition for the Environment

The Missouri Coalition for the Environment is one of several groups filing suit against the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to try to get the agency to address the long-term storage of nuclear waste.

That suit follows similar cases filed by the states of New York, Connecticut, and Vermont, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Prairie Island Indian Community in Minnesota.

(Sarah Skiold-Hanlin, St. Louis Public Radio)

A new analysis by scientists at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency suggests there could be risks to area residents if an underground fire were to reach radioactive waste at the West Lake Landfill.

An underground fire has been smoldering at the adjacent Bridgeton Landfill for more than three years and is now about 900 to 1,000 feet from the radioactive material.

Advocacy Groups Warn Of Landfill Fire Risks In Bridgeton

Mar 15, 2013
Véronique LaCapra, St. Louis Public Radio

A coalition of environmental and worker rights organizations held a meeting today to lobby government officials about the risks posed by an underground fire at the Bridgeton landfill.