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Koster Visits Bridgeton Landfill, Calls For Improved Protocol To Handle Problems

Missouri Attorney General's Office

Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster said Monday that this weekend’s surface fire at the Bridgeton Landfill will play a role in the state’s ongoing lawsuit against its owner, Republic Services.

The fire “informs the court case,’’ Koster said. “The fact that a fire did flare up gives credence to the overall concerns that residents have had for some time.”

The attorney general’s observations came in a telephone interview after more than three hours of meetings with Republic, police and fire officials to discuss Sunday morning's fire, as well as the longstanding underground smoldering in some parts of the landfill.

Based on those meetings, Koster concluded that communication needed to improve between Republic and first responders, in particular the Pattonville Fire Department. A written protocol should have called for the company to inform the fire department immediately of the surface fire, Koster said. But it was nearby residents who first called the fire department on Sunday after they spotted the smoke and flames, he said.

“Republic needs to tighten up their emergency protocol responses,’’ Koster said, although he emphasized that he sought to focus more on the future than the past. “Hopefully some new agreements about protocol can be worked out.”

Among other things, Koster is recommending that the surface of the landfill  be better marked, and include more roads, so that it is easier for police and firefighters to locate troubled areas and to know where it is safest to use fire equipment. “It is a little challenging up there to get your bearings,’’ he said.

He also proposed “some on-site emergency management planning’’ that would include top police and fire officials. “Invite the (fire) department on to the site so they can do some planning,’’ Koster said.

Although a sizable chunk of Monday’s meetings dealt with the surface fire, Koster said that the sessions also dealt with the underground fires that have plagued the landfill for years.  Discussions centered on the underground temperatures, which have been reportedly reached more than 200 degrees, as well as monitoring carbon monoxide data.

Credit Missouri Department of Natural Resources
Map of Bridgeton Landfill, with underground smoldering area and radioactive material marked.

Missouri filed suit against Republic almost a year ago, after Koster and his office got more involved in the landfill issue, at the request of neighboring residents.

The Bridgeton Landfill is overseen by the state’s Department of Natural Resources, while the neighboring West Lake Landfill, which contains World War II-era nuclear waste, is under the control of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Koster said Monday’s topics included discussion of the state’s quest for a trench to be dug between the two landfills, as part of an effort to prevent the underground fire from reaching the radioactive material.  A recent EPA-commissioned report, yet to be released, contends that there is no public threat, even if the fire should reach the radioactive material.

Koster said the trench would amount to a “firewall.”

The still-pending lawsuit accuses Republic of violating clean-water and clean-air standards. In the interim, there is an agreement dealing with Republic’s operations.  Republic has installed a massive new cap over the landfill to stem the smell that has plagued neighbors for years, and also has put in place sensors to monitor the underground fire.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

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