Winter 2012 Nukewatch Quarterly
By Bonnie Urfer
Imagine living next to a landfill containing household garbage, industrial chemicals and jet fuel. Then picture an unlined radioactive waste dump next to and on top of the landfill. Finally, consider that the landfill’s temperature is unnaturally rising and that the heat may affect buried radioactive material.
This is the situation at the 200-acre West Lake Landfill (WLL) in Bridgeton, Missouri, northwest of Lambert Airport in St. Louis. The West Lake Co. accepted waste from the Hazelwood area east of the airport in the early 1970s in a typical industry shell-game. Mallinckrodt Chemical Co., Contemporary Metals, the Cotter Corporation, Dow Chemical and other firms were involved in Cold War uranium processing here and dumped their wastes haphazardly.
Neighbors complain of terrible smells and emissions that burn eyes and cause headaches. An investigation has not uncovered the cause of the problem, although authorities report that the dump’s temperature is rising and threatens to disturb the radioactive waste buried there. Phoenix-based Republic Services now operates the landfill and has drilled wells to allow gases and vapors to escape, but the same wellheads show a dramatic increase in temperatures over the past four months. WLL, with its mass of radioactive and toxic waste 15 feet deep, is just two miles from the Missouri River and sits in its broad flood plain.
Residents of Bridgeton have met to determine what can be done about the 20 acres of radioactive refuse dumped illegally in 1973. The Environmental Protection Agency promises public meetings in January to address the situation. The EPA and Republic favor keeping the dump as is, since the contamination is so widespread that any attempt to move it could make the situation worse and cost $400 million.
Other dumps around St. Louis facing lawsuits over cleanup include the Madison Site, just across the Mississippi River in Illinois; the North St. Louis County Site; the St. Louis Downtown Site; the St. Louis Airport Sites and Coldwater Creek.
— KMOV TV, Oct. 29; KTVI News, St. Louis, Nov. 13; St. Louis Post Dispatch, Mar.14, 2012; Washington University, Feb. 18, 2010; Missouri Dept. of Natural Resources, “West Lake Landfill,” Hazardous Waste Program, undated report.