Surface fire: On October 24, 2015, a grass fire ignited near one of the two areas impacted by radioactive materials, which are located at the surface and subsurface of the landfill.The EPA says the fire did not impact any of the surface level radioactive material at the site. The fire is concerning though given the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry released a report on October 16, 2015, stating: "ATSDR concludes if any surface disturbances occur on the landfill, it may release dust particles containing uranium and thorium decay products which include radium-226, radon 222, and radium-228 to the atmosphere. These particulates may then be available for inhalation by workers. Inhalation of particulates and particulates containing radioactive substances including radon may harm worker health and lead to lung cancer."
Smoldering fire: The smoldering fire in the south quarry of the West Lake Landfill was reported to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources in 2010. The smoldering fire was not publicly known until mid-2012, when odors became intolerable and people began asking questions. The Pattonville Fire Protection District was informed about the smoldering fire in 2012 just like folks who live around the landfill.
In August 2014, the Missouri DNR's landfill fire consultant commented that a major goal for the state should be to ensure the smoldering fire does not become a surface fire.
Landfill fire expert Todd Thalhamer: "Overall the TMPs appear to be indicating the heating event and the smoldering event continues to move towards the surface. One can also take the approach that the waste mass is settling into the reaction zone below ground, either way the smoldering event can surface through the waste or the waste can collapse downwards or be consumed by the smoldering event. The outcome from either view is unacceptable and has negative outcomes for the community .The goal has been and remains preventing daylighting of the below ground smoldering event, so that visible flames and smoke are never generated by the permitted facility and allowed to extend beyond the property boundary."
This is why Republic Services is excavating dirt near the landfill to fill in the voids from the settle referenced by Mr. Thalhamer. Republic Services is trying to smother the smoldering fire so it doesn't become a surface fire.
Picture taken by the Missouri Coalition for the Environment on October 26, 2015.
Attorney General Koster filed a lawsuit against the landfill owner, Republic Services, in March of 2013 for violating several environmental laws. AG Koster was able to get Republic Services to implement some smoldering fire mitigation actions, like covering the landfill with an impermeable cap, as well as an agreement to create a barrier between the smoldering fire and known radioactive wastes. The EPA is currently overseeing the proposed isolation barrier as the discovery of previously unidentified radioactive materials were discovered during tests to screen the proposed line to see if it was radioactive free. AG Koster's lawsuit against Republic Services is ongoing. A trial date is set for March of 2016.
Radioactive wastes: The radioactive wastes are remnants from uranium processing by Mallinckrodt Chemical Works (MCW) during World War II, which enabled our government to build a nuclear weapon. All of the uranium used in the first self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction in 1942 was processed in St. Louis. The radioactive wastes moved from the MCW facility downtown, to the St. Louis Airport Site, to the Hazelwood Interim Storage Site, and roughly 48,000 tons of radioactive material was illegally dumped at the West Lake Landfill in 1973.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission was responsible for jurisdiction of the site during the 1980's. In 1990, the Department of Energy (DOE) decided to put the Downtown site, Airport site, and Hazelwood site on the Formerly Utilized Sites Remedial Action Program (FUSRAP) list. FUSRAP was created by Congress in 1974 to cleanup military produced radioactive wastes throughout the country. Unfortunately, the DOE chose to leave the West Lake Landfill off of the FUSRAP list for cleanup sites even though it contains the same nuclear weapons radioactive wastes as the other sites chosen.
The DOE choice to leave the West Lake Landfill off of the FUSRAP list led to the EPA putting it on the National Priorities List as a Superfund site. In 2008, the EPA chose to cap-and-leave the radioactive wastes even with objections from the City of Bridgeton and thousands of people. In 2010, the EPA decided to reconsider the cap-and-leave decision, which is ongoing as we speak.