Radioactive Waste | St. Louis Public Radio

Radioactive Waste

Artist Allana Ross and participants of her toxic waste site tours outside of the Bridgeton Landfill in September 2019.
Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

Before a group of young adults embarked on a tour of toxic waste sites in St. Louis, artist Allana Ross asked if anyone wanted a respirator. 

Twice a year since 2017, Ross dresses up as a park ranger and invites people to follow her on a “Toxic Mounds Tour” to locations in St. Louis County that have been contaminated by toxic waste. 

Some stops along the tour are sites where federal officials are cleaning up radioactive waste, like Coldwater Creek in Hazelwood. Others, like the Weldon Spring site in St. Charles, which contains nuclear waste, were converted into parks. 

The West Lake Landfill, in the distance, sits adjacent to the Bridgeton Landfill.
File Photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

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 West Lake Landfill, seen from St. Charles Rock Road in Bridgeton.
File Photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

The Environmental Protection Agency has decided to conduct additional tests for radioactive contamination at the West Lake Landfill, which would delay its excavation of the Superfund site.

When the EPA region that oversees Missouri released its final plan last September to remove 70% of the radioactivity at the site, officials said the cleanup would begin after they spent 18 months planning how to remove the World War II-era waste.

EPA officials announced this week that parties responsible for the landfill signed an agreement with the agency to design the excavation plan. Because of the additional testing, the cleanup won’t begin for two and a half years, EPA spokesperson Ben Washburn said.

The West Lake Landfill, in the distance, sits adjacent to the Bridgeton Landfill, right.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated at 12:10 p.m. Sept. 28 — The Environmental Protection Agency has finalized its plan to remove radioactive waste from the West Lake Landfill Superfund site.

The chosen solution will remove about 70 percent of the site’s radioactivity and dispose of the waste at an out-of-state facility. The $205 million plan is similar, though less expensive, to what officials proposed in February.

St. Cin Park in Hazelwood. The park is staying open during the clean-up, but the Corps is monitoring the air and water for contamination.
Mike Petersen | U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, St. Louis District

A federal government agency has concluded radioactive contamination in a north St. Louis County creek could cause increased risk of certain types of cancer in residents who live near the north St. Louis County waterway.

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry’s public health assessment, released Monday, states that residents who were exposed to the area around Coldwater Creek had a higher risk of exposure to radioactive contaminants, and thus a higher risk of bone cancer, lung cancer or leukemia. The federal organization is also calling for the public to comment and add to the report through Aug. 31.

Advocates for residents near Coldwater Creek were pleased to hear representatives of a federal agency acknowledge what they have long suspected.

More than a hundred showed up to the St. Louis Army Corps of Engineers' annual meeting in February 2018 to update the public on efforts to remediate legacy nuclear waste along Coldwater Creek.
Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

When the Army Corps of Engineers on Thursday delivered an update on its ongoing work to clean up radioactive waste along Coldwater Creek, it was to a packed room. More than 100 people attended the meeting; some attendees only recently learned about the radioactive waste after watching the HBO documentary, "Atomic Homefront," which began airing last week.

The film documents the struggle of north St. Louis County residents who live near areas illegally dumped with World War II-era nuclear waste, particularly the West Lake Landfill Superfund site. While many attendees in the room had known about the waste for several years, some were stunned to learn about it from the documentary.

The West Lake Landfill, in the distance, sits adjacent to the Bridgeton Landfill.
File Photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

On Friday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Don Marsh went Behind the Headlines to discuss the aftermath of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) decision on a partial removal of World War II-era radioactive waste at the West Lake Landfill, in northwest St. Louis County.

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

The Environmental Protection Agency has found no evidence of radioactive waste from the Manhattan Project in two Bridgeton homes close to the West Lake Landfill Superfund site. 

Federal officials began testing homes in late 2016 in response to a lawsuit filed in November by a married couple in the Spanish Village subdivision against landfill owner Republic Services and 10 other companies.

A cautionary sign at a fence around the West Lake Landfill Superfund site, which contains World War II-era nuclear waste.
File photo | Véronique LaCapra | St. Louis Public Radio

The Environmental Protection Agency has extended its deadline to propose a plan to clean up the West Lake Landfill Superfund site. 

Federal officials had aimed to decide whether to partially or fully remove the World War II-era nuclear waste at the landfill by the end of December, but they decided to postpone the decision. Recently, there were allegations that radioactive contamination from the West Lake Landfill was found on residential property.

Flares at the Bridgeton Landfill are used to burn off smelly underground gases.
Véronique LaCapra | St. Louis Public Radio

Samples of radioactive waste at the West Lake Landfill Bridgeton placed in contact with high heat did not increase production of a radioactive gas, according to a new study released by the Environmental Protection Agency.

A cautionary sign at a fence around the West Lake Landfill Superfund site, which contains World War II-era nuclear waste.
File photo | Véronique LaCapra | St. Louis Public Radio

The Environmental Protection Agency misled the people who live near the West Lake Landfill by suppressing a key report that concluded the radioactive waste could be removed, residents alleged on Thursday. 

The nine-page document was finalized in 2013, but was just released on Wednesday afternoon. It contains recommendations from the EPA's National Remedy Review Board to address the waste at the Superfund site.

"It appears feasible to remove more highly contaminated material and significantly reduce long-term risk at the site," the report said.

A cautionary sign at a fence around the West Lake Landfill Superfund site, which contains World War II-era nuclear waste.
File photo | Véronique LaCapra | St. Louis Public Radio

 

Transferring authority for the West Lake Landfill in Bridgeton to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will not speed up removal of radioactive waste from the site, a corps official told federal lawmakers recently.

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

Radioactive material has been discovered in a drainage area located in the northwest portion of the West Lake Landfill.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency ordered landfill owner Republic Services and the Cotter Corporation to collect sediment samples in March in response to heavy rains that occurred in late December and early January.

A worker for the Missouri Department of Natural Resources collects a soil sample as part of testing for radioactive contamination around West Lake Landfill.
Missouri Department of Natural Resources

Updated at 2:45 p.m. on Saturday, April 2, with information from the EPA:

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will clean up radioactive contamination confirmed to be found in soil on private property adjacent to the West Lake Landfill in Bridgeton. 

This photo of Coldwater Creek flooding was taken from the Dunn Road bridge on Monday.
Paul A. Huddleston

A north St. Louis County park is now clean of radioactive material from the nearby contaminated Coldwater Creek, now that remediation by the Army Corps of Engineers is complete. 

A cautionary sign at a fence around the West Lake Landfill Superfund site, which contains World War II-era nuclear waste.
File photo | Véronique LaCapra | St. Louis Public Radio

After two years of delay, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced on Thursday that it will move ahead with plans to build a firebreak at a landfill complex in north St. Louis County.

A fire has been smoldering underground at the Bridgeton Landfill since late 2010, about 1,000 feet away from tons of radioactive waste buried in the adjacent West Lake Landfill.

Federal environmental health scientist Erin Evans speaks to area residents at an open house about Coldwater Creek on Wednesday.
Véronique LaCapra | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated 5:00 p.m., Dec. 3 with information on the county study - Federal scientists were in St. Louis County on Wednesday to talk with area residents about a planned public health assessment related to contamination along Coldwater Creek.

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) announced last month that it would be launching the study to evaluate people’s potential exposures to radiation and other hazardous substances in and around the creek.

Using an online survey, the Coldwater Creek Facebook group has been collecting information on illnesses in the communities around the creek. Close to 2,000 cases of cancer have been reported.
Coldwater Creek - Just the Facts Please Facebook group

St. Louis County is teaming up with federal scientists to assess health risks from radioactive contamination in and around Coldwater Creek in north St. Louis County.

According to county public health department director Faisal Khan, the collaboration with the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry will give a big boost to local efforts to study those risks, both in terms of financial resources and technical expertise.

An underground fire has been smoldering in the Bridgeton Landfill for five years, about 1,000 feet away from tons of nuclear waste in the adjacent West Lake Landfill.
Véronique LaCapra | St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis Public Radio has been following developments at a landfill complex in St. Louis County, where for five years an underground fire has been smoldering at the Bridgeton Landfill, about 1,000 feet away from radioactive waste at the adjacent West Lake Landfill.

The situation is unique, and we thought it merited national attention. You can listen to our national update below, or read the story at npr.org.

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

Updated at 5 p.m., Oct. 20 with new information -- St. Louis Public Radio is updating this FAQ to describe what we know — and don't know — about the Bridgeton and West Lake landfills. We'll continue to add to it based on your input and as new information becomes available.

In March 2014, we first published this story to help answer some key questions about the situation at this complex of landfills in north St. Louis County.

A lot has happened since then — but in many ways, not much has changed.

Community activist Dawn Chapman speaks to an overflow crowd at the John Calvin Presbyterian Church about problems at the West Lake and Bridgeton landfills.
File Photo | Véronique LaCapra | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated 1:00 a.m. after the landfill meeting - Hundreds of area residents jammed into the John Calvin Presbyterian Church in Bridgeton Thursday night for a meeting about two St. Louis County landfills.

Many people at the meeting had never heard of the Bridgeton and West Lake landfills until last week, when St. Louis County made public an emergency response plan describing how it would respond if an underground fire at Bridgeton reaches radioactive waste at West Lake.

Since this map was created, EPA contractors have detected more radioactive waste than what is shown in pink, including some along the southern edge of OU-1 in what is called the "muffin top" of the north quarry of the Bridgeton Landfill.
Debbie Kring | U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Updated 1:15 p.m. and 3:15 p.m., Sept. 18 with U.S. Department of Energy response and comment from Sen. McCaskill's office - The U.S. Department of Energy is denying a request from members of Missouri's congressional delegation to transfer authority for the cleanup of radioactive waste at the West Lake Landfill in Bridgeton from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

A cautionary sign at a fence around the West Lake Landfill Superfund site, which contains World War II-era nuclear waste.
File photo | Véronique LaCapra | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated 5:20 p.m., Sept. 3 with additional comments — Radiation from the West Lake Landfill in Bridgeton has spread to neighboring properties. That's according to reports released on Thursday by Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster. The reports also suggest the underground fire at the neighboring Bridgeton Landfill is moving in the direction of the radioactive waste.

Landfill owner Republic Services maintains that the situation is under control and that the subsurface chemical reaction is headed south, away from the known area of nuclear contamination.

St. Cin Park in Hazelwood. The park is staying open during the clean-up, but the Corps is monitoring the air and water for contamination.
Mike Petersen | U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, St. Louis District

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has confirmed that it has found radioactive contamination at residential properties along Coldwater Creek in north St. Louis County.

Mike Petersen, the chief of public affairs for the Corps' St. Louis District, said as of right now, "low-dose" contamination had been found in the soil around "a handful" of homes on Palm Drive in Hazelwood, immediately adjacent to the creek. He was not able to specify the exact number of properties affected.

Michelle Seeger questions Army Corps health physicist Jonathan Rankins while her sister Julie Pinkston looks on. Seeger grew up near Coldwater Creek and has Stage IV cancer.
Credit Véronique LaCapra | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated 6/24/15 after the Corps open house - Area residents packed into a room at the Hazelwood Civic Center last night to find out the bad news about radioactive contamination in North St. Louis County.

At the open house, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers confirmed it has found radioactive contamination at three new sites along Coldwater Creek.

They are in St. Cin Park in Hazelwood, Duchesne Park in Florissant, and a property of the St. Louis Archdiocese behind St. Ferdinand cemetery, also in Hazelwood. All the contaminated areas are subject to flooding from the creek.

This figure from the USGS West Lake Landfill groundwater report shows levels of radium in groundwater wells under and around the landfill. Red, orange, and yellow dots show radium contamination above the federal safe drinking water standard.
U.S. Geological Survey

Updated 12/18/14:

Groundwater under the West Lake Landfill in Bridgeton is contaminated with unhealthy levels of radium.

That’s according to a U.S. Geological Survey report, released on Wednesday by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

On this map, the location of the new temperature monitoring probes that Mo. Dept. of Natural Resources wants Republic Services to install is marked with a purple line.
Missouri Department of Natural Resources

Updated 10/17/14: Republic Services has confirmed that it agreed on Thursday, in writing, to comply with all of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources' requirements ― although the company remains committed to its position that the additional measures are not needed.

Our original story:

Missouri Department of Natural Resources

 UPDATED 6/20/14 to correct description of radioactivity testing along waste haul routes.

Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster has reached a new agreement with Bridgeton Landfill owner Republic Services.

It includes additional measures that Republic must take to monitor the movement of an underground fire at the landfill and to control the foul odors ― and potentially toxic gases ― emanating from it.

Those measures include:

Véronique LaCapra, St. Louis Public Radio

A lawsuit filed on Friday alleges that radiation from the West Lake Landfill has spread into surrounding neighborhoods, contaminating properties there.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency maintains that the public is not at risk.

Attorney Daniel Finney, Jr., filed the suit on behalf of John James, who has lived near the landfill in Bridgeton for more than 30 years.

(Sarah Skiold-Hanlin, St. Louis Public Radio)

A new analysis by scientists at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency suggests there could be risks to area residents if an underground fire were to reach radioactive waste at the West Lake Landfill.

An underground fire has been smoldering at the adjacent Bridgeton Landfill for more than three years and is now about 900 to 1,000 feet from the radioactive material.

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