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Government, Politics & Issues
Environmental issues in Missouri are complicated. Communities along the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers are experiencing worse and more frequent floods. People living near toxic waste sites are dealing with the stress of waiting for contamination to be cleaned up. And to top it off, climate change is adversely affecting the health and economy for city residents and rural communities.St. Louis Public Radio keeps you informed of the most pressing environmental issues in the state and presents the voices of people who are most affected by them.

Who are the players in the West Lake and Bridgeton landfill sagas?

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.

By the late 1970s, the secret was out, and the public began clamoring to get rid of the waste stored at West Lake and possibly other smaller sites in the St. Louis area. Kay Drey of University City, and such groups as the Missouri Coalition for the Environment, have been untiring activists in the removal effort.

Since then, there have been ongoing debates as whether it’s safer to “cap” the West Lake site, or move the radioactive material somewhere else.

The furor got even louder in the late 1980s, when improved testing determined that some of the radioactive waste had migrated, largely blown by the wind. Berkeley, for example, closed its ballfields after they were found to be contaminated with radioactive soil.

In the early 1990s, the EPA concluded that it was safer to keep the waste at West Lake. But within the last few years, the debate has re-emerged, in part because of an underground fire at the neighboring Bridgeton landfill that some experts — but not all — contend could spread to the radioactive waste at West Lake.

Surrounding homeowners, with support from some politicians, are calling once again for the radioactive material to be moved.

The controversy is heating up as the region heads to a likely hot 2016 election year, which has heightened some of the rhetoric and the stakes.

Perhaps as a result, it’s not surprising that there’s also more scrutiny of the political ties — and campaign donations — of the bipartisan party of  key players in the West Lake debate.

Here’s an “index card” look at many of them:

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