© 2022 St. Louis Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Health, Science, Environment

EPA Considering Landfill Fires In Re-evaluating What To Do With Radioactive Waste In Bridgeton

Missouri Department of Natural Resources
This map from May, 2013, shows part of the West Lake Landfill in Bridgeton. The underground fire is shaded in red, the radioactive waste in orange. The 1993 fire was in the north quarry, closer to the radioactive waste.

This isn't the first time a fire has smoldered underground at the landfill in Bridgeton.

The Missouri Coalition for the Environment says another subsurface fire burned there in 1993.

They found a reference to that fire in an old report related to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's management of radioactive waste at the landfill.

The Coalition's Ed Smith says the 1993 fire was closer to the radioactive waste than the current one.

Smith says the landfill's fire history is only more evidence that the radioactive waste should be removed.

“We're trying to determine if the EPA considered landfill fires a threat to the radioactive wastes when it made its decision to leave the radioactive waste at the landfill in 2008, after knowing that a landfill fire occurred hundreds of feet away from one of the areas contaminated with radioactive waste,” Smith said.

EPA spokesperson Chris Whitely says at the time, the agency focused on risks from earthquakes and floods.

But he says the EPA is reconsidering its decision to encompass a broader range of potential threats, “including seismic events, including floods, including certainly fires and even tornadoes.”

Whitley couldn’t say when the EPA would complete its review and decide what to do with the radioactive materials.

He says results of recent groundwater sampling for contaminants and radiation at the landfill should be available in four to six weeks.

The EPA is also overseeing the building of a firebreak between the radioactive waste and the current underground fire.

Before that can happen, the area needs to be tested for radioactivity. That testing was delayed by the federal government shutdown, but Whitley says it has now been rescheduled for the week of Oct. 28.

Follow Véronique LaCapra on Twitter@KWMUScience

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.