(NaturalNews) A five-year fire is burning beneath a landfill in a St. Louis suburb, and it’s rapidly approaching an old cache of nuclear waste.
At present, St. Louis County emergency officials are unsure whether or not the fire will set off a reaction that releases a radioactive plume over the city. An emergency plan was put together in October 2014 to “save lives in the event of a catastrophic event at the West Lake Landfill.”
St. Louis County officials warn, “There is a potential for radioactive fallout to be released in the smoke plume and spread throughout the region.”
Many residents are taking precautions; some are buying gas masks, while others are considering moving away. Just recently, over 500 local residents discussed the precarious situation at a church meeting which usually draws in less than 50 people.
EPA not worried about the fire or the nuclear waste
Nothing stands in the way of the uncontrollable landfill fire, which is smoldering hot underneath the trash of the West Lake Landfill of Bridgeton County, St. Louis. This “smoldering event” is not uncommon. Fires ignite and smolder under landfills because the trash becomes so compact and hot. In this case, the fire is brewing less than a quarter mile from an old deposit of nuclear waste that threatens to spread cancer-causing radon gas.
Surprisingly, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) isn’t taking the situation very seriously.
EPA officials admit that although the waste may eventually emit radon gas, it won’t affect anything outside the landfill property. This is the same EPA that polluted the Colorado River with 3 million gallons of toxic sludge full of lead, arsenic and other heavy metals. EPA contractors breached a mine, sending the sludge flowing into the Animas river, which quickly turned putrid and murky. That pollution has now spread to New Mexico, Utah and Arizona, infiltrating the countryside with toxic elements. Why should anyone in St. Louis County trust the EPA with radioactive waste?
To make matters worse, the EPA isn’t even worried about the fire reaching the nuclear waste. “We just do not agree with the finding that the subsurface smoldering event is approaching the radiologically impacted material,” said Mary Peterson, director of the Superfund division for EPA Region 7.
There have been no plans to remove the radioactive waste as of yet, leaving local residents baffled and worried. Most residents were unaware of the existence of the radioactive waste, which had been dumped there illegally four decades ago. If it weren’t for activists educating the public about the waste, no one would know.
Radioactive waste comes back to haunt St. Louis
The radioactive waste includes 8,700 tons of leached barium sulfate residue. It was illegally dumped in the West Lake Landfill by Cotter Corporation sometime after World War II and wasn’t discovered by investigators until 1973. The radioactive waste was left behind due to the mishandling of uranium by Mallinckrodt Chemical Works, a company that started out working for the federal government’s Manhattan Project.
Since 1990, the West Lake Landfill has been managed by the EPA and deemed a Superfund site. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry recently warned all agencies not to disturb the surface of the landfill. They warned that radium-226, radon-222 and radium-228 could be released into the air, putting people near the landfill at risk.
The agency reported that radon levels in the area are often measured above regulations “by as much as 10 to 25 times at individual surface test locations.” Moreover, radium increases people’s risk of developing bone, liver and breast cancer.
The EPA is downplaying the potential for a Chernobyl or Fukushima-like disaster, but residents have every reason not to trust the agency’s guesswork, given its decades-long refusal to safely remove the radioactive material from the area.
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Residents demand answers about radioactive Bridgeton landfill
More than 40 years ago, radioactive waste was dumped at the West Lake Landfill in Bridgeton. The decades since have been filled with legal and political moves that have not gotten the site cleaned up.
Now a growing number of residents want to know how dangerous it is to live and work in the area as a fire burns underground in the adjoining Bridgeton Landfill. More than 500 people showed up at a Bridgeton church on Thursday for a meeting organized by residents. The monthly meetings held for the last two years typically attract no more than 50.
The surge in public interest comes after state reports showed the fire is moving toward the nuclear waste, and radioactive materials can be found in soil, groundwater and trees outside the perimeter of the landfill.
At least six school districts have sent letters home in the last week outlining their plans for a potential nuclear emergency. St. Louis County recently released its own emergency evacuation plan that was written last year.
Underground fires are common in landfills as buried garbage can get hot, much like the bottom of a compost pile. Typically they are monitored and allowed to burn out. But none of the fires have gotten so close to nuclear waste, which was created during the World War II era for St. Louis’ part in the production of the atomic bomb.