ST. LOUIS, MO (KTVI) - When you arrive at the Bridgeton Landfill just off St. Charles Rock Road, you see them right away, signs indicating a potential hazard. This is where the West Lake Landfill operating unit one is located. It`s also where radioactive material is buried.
Republic's vice president of communications and public affairs Russ Knocke gave us a first hand look of the entire area in question.
"The fence line denotes where there is known radiologically impacted material. That material is low level leached barium sulfate that was placed here at west lake landfill in 1973. It is the lowest of low level material that was left over from St. Louis` legacy with the Manhattan Project." said Russ Knocke.
Republic officials say the underground smoldering chemical reaction is in the south quarry of the Bridgeton Landfill. Republic says the two areas are 2,500 feet apart and the reaction is farther from the radioactive material now than it`s ever been.
Republic says the reaction is smoldering between 60 and 150 feet underground while the radioactive material is buried between 12 and 25 feet underground.
Knocke took us to the south quarry area where the reaction is happening. He says back in June of 2013 the reaction was only about 1,000 feet away from the radioactive waste. Since then, Knocke claims the reaction has moved counter clockwise about six inches daily, taking it away from West Lake.
"What we're talking about here is a subsurface chemical reaction. It's an exothermic chemical reaction. That means it produces heat. You can think of it like a compost." Knocke contends the reaction is not an underground fire. "This chemical reaction causes waste to decompose at an accelerated rate. The waste serves as its fuel source."
Knocke says the key now is to keep the reaction isolated to the south quarry. Some 200 gas extraction wells around the Bridgeton Landfill are helping to do that. So are a dozen underground cooling lines. While the
"The reaction generates a lot of heat. When we begin to remove that heat, we cause the potency of the reaction to diminish some. We also restrict is capacity to move. It doesn`t have the same intensity if you will." said Russ Knocke.
There are temperature monitors as well. all of this is part of the more than $150 million that Republic has spent to control the reaction and the odor from the landfill.
"The Neck," as it`s called, is a critical area. It`s a small section that divides the south quarry of the Bridgeton Landfill from another section called the north quarry. The cooling lines are buried in the neck and it is a major marker when it comes to the reaction.
"Nobody wants the reaction to move beyond the neck area. That`s one thing that everybody can agree upon." said Russ Knocke.
Knocke believes with the steps Republic has taken the reaction can be isolated to the south quarry and will eventually burn itself out. Knocke concedes that could take years but he says St. Louis is safe and the reaction will not reach the radioactive material.
"St Louis can rest easy that nothing problematic or concerning is going to occur at Bridgeton Landfill or West Lake Landfill." said Russ Knocke.