Safe? Nuclear Waste Site in St. Louis Sits Above Underground Fire

Safe? Nuclear Waste Site in St. Louis Sits Above Underground Fire
Environmental Pollution

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is ordering an isolation barrier to be built at the West Lake Landfill in St. Louis, Missouri where nuclear waste dating back to the 1973 Manhattan Project was illegally dumped 4 years ago.

An underground fire has been burning beneath the landfill some 1,200 feet away from the adjoining Bridgeton Landfill. [1]

EPA spokeswoman Angela Breese said the barrier “will essentially be an underground wall.”

“Again, the location of that is something still to be worked out,” she said.

Additional engineering controls will be installed, according to Breese, including cooling loops to prevent impacts if the fire at the landfill were to come into contact with nearby radioactive materials.

The agency has not said when the barrier will be installed, which has infuriated many locals, including Dawn Chapman, who lives 2 miles south of the site.

“They have had quite a while now to figure out what they’re going to do barrier wise at this site,” Chapman said. “I think this is one of the biggest flaws of EPA and Superfund, is the amount of time it takes to get anything done.”

Véronique LaCapra/St. Louis Public Radio
Véronique LaCapra/St. Louis Public Radio

In October, an underground fire at the Bridgeton landfill only added to the anxiety of local residents as it began to smolder ever closer to the radioactive waste. Neighbors fear it could spread nuclear contamination over a large area. [2]

The work will be paid for by Republic Services, which owns both landfills. The company maintains there is no risk the fire will reach the radioactive waste, but environmentalists aren’t buying it.

“The only way to ensure a smoldering or surface fire doesn’t impact the radioactive wastes is to remove them,” said Ed Smith, of the Missouri Coalition for the Environment. The group says the barrier is not enough protection against the fire.

In 2009, the Westlake landfill was declared a Superfund site. In 2008, the EPA announced a plan cap the nuclear waste with rock, clay and soil.

But the plan was poorly received, which forced the EPA to reconsider. Residents and lawmakers have been pressuring the agency to come up with an alternative idea, but it has so far remained silent. [3]


[1] CBS News

[2] CBS News St. Louis

[3] NY Daily News (Article featured image credit: SID HASTINGS/CORBIS)