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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.

Residents Near West Lake Landfill Demand Protection During Radioactive Waste Removal

The West Lake Landfill, in the distance, sits adjacent to the Bridgeton Landfill.
File Photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
At a meeting Thursday evening, residents near the West Lake Landfill Superfund site expressed concerns about being exposed to odors and radiocative materials at the site during the excavation.

People who live near the West Lake Landfill want to know how they will be protected from exposure to radiation when the Environmental Protection Agency begins removing nuclear contamination from the Superfund site in three years.

At a meeting late Thursday, EPA officials sought to assure residents they would be protected during the excavation. The federal agency last fall decided it would remove 70% of the site’s radioactivity.

Several residents said that they would like to be relocated while the waste is being removed.

“The only thing I’d consider safe is me knowing what my kid is breathing while they are digging that up, one mile away from his school,” said Meagan Beckerman of Bridgeton. 

Bridgeton resident Meagan Beckerman at a meeting about the cleanup of West Lake Landfill Superfund site in July 2019.
Credit Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio
At a meeting hosted by EPA and the local Just Moms STL activist group, Meagan Beckerman of Bridgeton asks EPA officials how they will ensure her son is protected from exposure to the landfill during excavation.

The EPA is working with three engineering firms — Parsons Corp., Feezor Engineering and Ameriphysics — to develop safety plans for workers and the surrounding community during the cleanup process. 

During the excavation period, the area where waste will be removed will be covered in the evenings to prevent odors from being released to the surrounding area, EPA project manager Chris Jump said. However, covering the area while excavation is taking place is extremely difficult and hazardous to workers, she added. 

“We’re going to try and minimize it and keep [the site] open as little as possible,” Jump told residents.

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The federal agency expects the engineering firms to complete the emergency response and safety plans before testing for radioactive materials next summer in the northern portion of the West Lake Landfill. That investigation into where contamination is concentrated at the site could help shorten the excavation, said EPA officials.

The contamination needs to be removed but residents need to feel safe during the process, said Dawn Chapman, an activist and Maryland Heights resident. 

“You heard some people who don’t want the site opened up because they’re scared of what will happen. You heard some people wanting relocation,” Chapman said. “I’m the most concerned about the plan to protect workers at the site. If workers aren’t protected, the community isn’t protected.” 

Follow Eli on Twitter: @StoriesByEli

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