West Lake landfill | St. Louis Public Radio

West Lake landfill

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

Missouri’s attorney general is publicly chiding the Environmental Protection Agency for its “repeated missed deadlines" in its oversight of radioactive contamination at the West Lake Landfill in north St. Louis County. An underground chemical reaction, commonly referred to as a fire, has been smoldering in the landfill next door since at least 2010.

In an open letter, Attorney General Chris Koster detailed three instances where EPA has promised information that it failed to deliver:

Map of the West Lake Landfill
Provided by the EPA

A federal proposal to remove the Environmental Protection Agency from the helm of remediation efforts at the West Lake Landfill is hitting some opposition in Washington, as an underground, high-temperature chemical reaction (typically referred to as a fire) continues to burn in the adjacent Bridgeton Landfill.

Dr. Helen Caldicott (right), an anti-nuclear activist and expert on radioactive waste, discusses how exposure to radioactive contamination could have impacted Hazelwood resident Mary Oscko's (left) lung cancer, alongside Just Moms STL's Karen Nickel.
Stephanie Lecci | St. Louis Public Radio.

An internationally recognized anti-nuclear activist and Australian physician said the radioactive contamination in north St. Louis County is "worse than most places" she's investigated.

Co-founder of Just Moms STL Karen Nickel (at podium) said her group has the support of Missouri's U.S. Senate representatives in their efforts to meet with the EPA.
Just Moms STL | Facebook

An activist group of St. Louis area moms concerned about underground smoldering at the Bridgeton Landfill plans to picket outside the Environmental Protection Agency's Washington, D.C. offices on Wednesday.

This figure from the USGS West Lake Landfill groundwater report shows levels of radium in groundwater wells under and around the landfill. Red, orange, and yellow dots show radium contamination above the federal safe drinking water standard.
U.S. Geological Survey

In a move that environmental groups say they are “excited” and “pleasantly surprised” about, the Environmental Protection Agency said it plans to create a specific unit to study groundwater contamination at the West Lake Landfill Superfund site.

At a meeting of the West Lake/Bridgeton Landfill Community Advisory Group Monday night, the EPA also said it would conduct more testing to see if any radiological sediment had moved off the site during widespread flooding last year.

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

Residents near the West Lake landfill who have long sought a change in federal oversight are closer to getting part of their wish granted, with late Tuesday’s Senate passage of a bill that would transfer authority of the radioactive site to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The Senate action came as a result of a bipartisan push by U.S. Sens. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.

A cautionary sign at a fence around the West Lake Landfill Superfund site, which contains World War II-era nuclear waste.
File photo | Véronique LaCapra | St. Louis Public Radio

After two years of delay, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced on Thursday that it will move ahead with plans to build a firebreak at a landfill complex in north St. Louis County.

A fire has been smoldering underground at the Bridgeton Landfill since late 2010, about 1,000 feet away from tons of radioactive waste buried in the adjacent West Lake Landfill.

Moose Winan, "Rolling Thunder & Hills," Ozark Mountains
Moose Winans | Flickr, Creative Commons | http://bit.ly/1YyPCLb

One word comes to mind when we think about the environmental news that’s been a conversation starter in St. Louis in 2015: landfills. Specifically, what is going on at the Bridgeton and West Lake landfills north St. Louis County. On Wednesday’s “St. Louis on the Air,” St. Louis Public Radio’s science reporter Véronique LaCapra joined the show to discuss the evolution of the landfill situation and other big science, environmental and wildlife news of the year.

Some of the topics we discussed:

Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio

You may have heard of the local group of nuns who go to Bridgeton to pray for and protest over the West Lake and Bridgeton landfills, which have been the subject of much controversy in recent years.

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

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is ordering those responsible for the West Lake landfill to clear brush and provide fire-proof cover for areas contaminated by radioactive waste.

The order comes after an October brush fire at the entrance to the north St. Louis County landfill raised concerns about the consequences of a surface fire reaching radioactive waste at West Lake.

Rabbi Susan Talve of Central Reform Congregation prepares to give the blessing at a Hanukkah party at the White House Dec. 9.
Screen capture | White House video

A St. Louis rabbi has used an appearance at the White House to highlight efforts to reduce violence and deal with radioactive contamination.

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

In the mid-1960s, trucks carrying radioactive waste left over from World War II began lumbering along the then-dirt road leading to what’s now the West Lake landfill.

The waste was moved to the site — then deemed remote enough from humans — over more than a decade. Federal authorities denied that the yellow “dirt” contained radioactive radium and uranium.

Even the truck drivers — some of whom later died of cancer — didn’t know what they were transporting for years.

Map of the West Lake Landfill
Provided by the EPA

A rare bipartisan coalition of the region’s two members of the U.S. House and both of Missouri’s U.S. senators has filed legislation to transfer authority for the West Lake landfill from the Environmental Protection Action to the Army Corps of Engineers.

Reps. William Lacy Clay, D-University City, and Ann Wagner, R-Ballwin, have filed a bill in the House. Sens. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., have filed a companion measure in the Senate.

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.

Still from feature film "First Secret City"
St. Louis International Film Festival

Cinema St. Louis’ St. Louis International Film Festival starts next week on November 5, bringing with it a group of films that are sure to inspire some conversation around town. “The First Secret City” is one of them.

Since this map was created, EPA contractors have detected more radioactive waste than what is shown in pink, including some along the southern edge of OU-1 in what is called the "muffin top" of the north quarry of the Bridgeton Landfill.
Debbie Kring | U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Representatives from two federal agencies took heated criticism over the management of a former dumpsite for radioactive material and a nearby underground smolder at the Bridgeton Landfill on Monday night, as they tried to assure residents that their data suggests the surrounding communities are safe.

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.

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

A federal report shows no off-site human health risk from radioactive waste at the West Lake Landfill.

At the request of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, or ATSDR, reviewed existing data on groundwater, air, and soil contamination at and around the landfill in Bridgeton.

Overall, the assessment found no radiation risk to surrounding communities, but did caution that workers at the landfill need to be protected from inhaling radioactive dust and radon gas.

This photo taken in February of the Bridgeton Landfill's south quarry shows the plastic cap and several gas extraction wells.
Katelyn Mae Petrin | St. Louis Public Radio

Bridgeton and West Lake Landfill owner Republic Services is calling into question the validity of one of the reports released last month by Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster.

A deposition given this Wednesday and Thursday by the report's lead author seems to raise doubts about whether or not the underground fire at the Bridgeton Landfill is really moving toward nearby radioactive waste.

Community activist Dawn Chapman speaks to an overflow crowd at the John Calvin Presbyterian Church about problems at the West Lake and Bridgeton landfills.
Véronique LaCapra | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated 1:00 a.m. after the landfill meeting - Hundreds of area residents jammed into the John Calvin Presbyterian Church in Bridgeton Thursday night for a meeting about two St. Louis County landfills.

Many people at the meeting had never heard of the Bridgeton and West Lake landfills until last week, when St. Louis County made public an emergency response plan describing how it would respond if an underground fire at Bridgeton reaches radioactive waste at West Lake.

Since this map was created, EPA contractors have detected more radioactive waste than what is shown in pink, including some along the southern edge of OU-1 in what is called the "muffin top" of the north quarry of the Bridgeton Landfill.
Debbie Kring | U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Updated 1:15 p.m. and 3:15 p.m., Sept. 18 with U.S. Department of Energy response and comment from Sen. McCaskill's office - The U.S. Department of Energy is denying a request from members of Missouri's congressional delegation to transfer authority for the cleanup of radioactive waste at the West Lake Landfill in Bridgeton from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Missouri Senate

Updated at 4:38 p.m. on Sept. 17 with audio - On Thursday’s “St. Louis on the Air,” state Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-University City, announced her resignation as a member of the University City School Board.

Bridgeton Landfill
Véronique LaCapra, St. Louis Public Radio

On Thursday’s “St. Louis on the Air,” host Don Marsh brought together several different parties to talk about ongoing community concerns over radioactive contamination at the Bridgeton and West Lake landfills. He was joined by: 

  • Véronique LaCapra - St. Louis Public Radio’s science reporter. She has reported extensively on the situation at both landfills

  • Dawn Chapman - Citizen activist

  • Mike Petersen – Chief of Public Affairs, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

A cautionary sign at a fence around the West Lake Landfill Superfund site, which contains World War II-era nuclear waste.
File photo | Véronique LaCapra | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated 5:20 p.m., Sept. 3 with additional comments — Radiation from the West Lake Landfill in Bridgeton has spread to neighboring properties. That's according to reports released on Thursday by Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster. The reports also suggest the underground fire at the neighboring Bridgeton Landfill is moving in the direction of the radioactive waste.

Landfill owner Republic Services maintains that the situation is under control and that the subsurface chemical reaction is headed south, away from the known area of nuclear contamination.

This graph from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources' letter to Republic Services shows gradually rising temperatures in the neck of the Bridgeton Landfill.
Missouri Department of Natural Resources

Missouri environmental officials are ordering the owner of a landfill in Bridgeton do more to prevent a smoldering subsurface fire there from spreading. The Missouri Department of Natural Resources wants to keep the underground reaction from coming into contact with radioactive waste stored nearby.

But Republic Services, the owner, insists the situation at the Bridgeton Landfill is under control.

Alex Heuer

During World War II, a St. Louis-based company took on a project that turned out to be detrimental to the health of its employees.

Mallinckrodt Chemical Company was responsible for refining massive amounts of uranium for the Manhattan Project. As a result, some of Mallinckrodt’s employees succumbed to various illnesses caused by exposure to nuclear waste.

EPA Regional Administrator Karl Brooks fields questions from the public at a press conference in Bridgeton in May 2014.
Credit Véronique LaCapra | St. Louis Public Radio

The man who has been overseeing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's work in Missouri is moving on to join the agency's headquarters in Washington, D.C. Here, Karl Brooks reflects on some of St. Louis' biggest issues, including West Lake Landfill.

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

The Saint Louis County Department of Health is launching a survey to assess the health of people living near the Bridgeton Landfill.

An underground fire has been smoldering at the Bridgeton Landfill since 2010, causing odors emanating from the landfill to increase.

St. Louis Public Radio’s Chris McDaniel, Jo Mannies and Jason Rosenbaum welcomed St. Louis County Councilman Sam Page to Politically Speaking. 

A view of the Bridgeton Landfill, taken in the fall of 2014.
Willis Ryder Arnold | St. Louis Public Radio

The underground fire at the West Lake Landfill Superfund Site does not produce air pollution that exceeds hazardous standards, the regional head of the Environmental Protection Agency said Tuesday.  

“The air around the West Lake Landfill site in north St. Louis resembles the air elsewhere in metro St. Louis. There’s nothing distinctive,” said Karl Brooks, who leads EPA’s Region 7 from his office in Kansas City.

Pages