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Asthma, other illnesses not statistically worse near Bridgeton Landfill, survey says

Missouri Department of Natural Resources
The Bridgeton Landfill in north St. Louis County.

Residents near the Bridgeton Landfill did not report significantly higher rates of asthma and other respiratory illnesses on a recent health survey conducted by the St. Louis County Department of Public Health.

“There are some concerns, but for the most part, as related to asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), it is reassuring,” said Faisal Khan, the agency’s director.

In late February, volunteers interviewed 170 residents living within a two-mile radius of the landfill and 173 in other parts of the county. Though the findings for respiratory illnesses were not statistically significant, the survey respondents who live near the landfill were more likely to report shortness of breath, allergies and smelling bad odors.

Those, Khan said, were much more concerning.

“They contribute directly to human stress levels. So those require further study and teasing apart,” Khan said.

Residents have long said that fumes from the underground fire at the landfill have contributed to their health issues. Khan briefed a small group of activists on Friday afternoon. The results were met with both optimism and concern, said Ed Smith, policy director for the Missouri Coalition for the Environment.

“Just because people who live around the landfill don’t have a higher rate of asthma, the overall rate of asthma in St. Louis is terrible… so there’s a lot of room for improvement,” Smith said.  

In the study, households with smokers also reported higher rates of asthma and COPD. Tobacco smoke is a common trigger for asthma attacks.

The county enclosed an action plan at the end of its report, which includes expanding research and disseminating public information about existing resources, like the county’s monthly asthma clinic.

Republic Services, which owns the landfill, said in a statement that the findings help demonstrate that there is no public health risk associated with air conditions at the site. 

"Since 2012, air conditions around Bridgeton Landfill have been intensely monitored by scientists, environmental professionals, and regulators. These evaluations have involved ambient air downwind, upwind, and on-site, as well as detailed chemical analysis of landfill gas testing for more than 170 compounds," the statement read. "These new findings are consistent with data from more than three years of comprehensive monitoring, testing and study."

Follow Durrie on Twitter: @durrieB

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