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Community to EPA: Stop nuclear fires at landfill

More than 300 people from the Missouri Coalition for the Environment, Missouri Jobs with Justice, and the Teamsters Union attended a public meeting held by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). There, community leaders spoke out against the increasingly dangerous and volatile situation at West Lake Landfill Superfund Site in Bridgeton, Missouri. The landfill is operated by Republic Services, the nation’s second-largest trash company.

The site, located in the Missouri River floodplain, is home to radioactive wastes dumped there in 1973 following secret uranium processing in downtown St. Louis. In late October 2012, residents around the landfill began complaining of foul odors and burning eyes – and the Pattonville Fire Department expressed alarm at rising underground temperatures and the danger that the developing underground landfill fire could migrate toward the buried nuclear waste sites.

At the meeting, attendees demanded that the radioactive wastes be immediately isolated from the underground fire and then properly and completely removed from the floodplain.

“The site is becoming more radioactive over time,” said Dr. Bob Criss, professor of Geo-Chemistry at Washington University and a Missouri River expert. “A floodplain in an urban area is one of the most absurd places to store radioactive wastes that I can think of.”

The West Lake Landfill Superfund Site is the only radioactive site in the St. Louis area under the jurisdiction of the EPA. The Army Corps of Engineers has removed more than 1 million cubic yards of radioactive wastes from 4 sites in greater St. Louis. However, the EPA has yet to remove a single cubic yard of radioactive wastes from the West Lake Landfill site.

“According to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, it was illegal to dump the radioactive wastes in the Missouri River floodplain in 1973. It should be illegal for the EPA to knowingly leave them there,” said Ed Smith, safe energy director at the Missouri Coalition for the Environment. “It’s technically feasible to remove the radioactive wastes and it should be done as soon as possible.”

While the EPA has refused to take action to remove the radioactive wastes for decades, the recent fire at the landfill has caught the attention of local officials and the greater St. Louis community.

“We have members who live near and around the landfill. We also have members who work on the site, and we believe that the nonunion workers who work under Republic’s thumb deserve protection as well. The fire on its own is a big problem. What if the landfill fire were to reach the radioactive waste?” said Marv Kropp, president of Teamsters Joint Council 13.