Are the Bridgeton and West Lake Landfills a toxic legacy for St. Louis?

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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.

 

There is obviously so much concern about what is going on at the Bridgeton landfill and what could happen to the area, community and people living nearby.  Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster says he wants people to know that his office is doing everything they can to force Republic to clean up the mess as soon as possible.  "Our greatest concern is always going to be public health.  That is why we are putting so much pressure on the EPA to analyze what is going on at the landfill in real time," says Koster.
It is Koster's job to protect the environment, the air, soil and water around the landfill.  That is the focus of his case against Republic, which he is trying to get into a courtroom by the middle of next year.
He says, "the ground water we believe is compromised, the radioactive material has crept off site through the transmission of air or groundwater and there is a stench of burning plastic in the air."
The Attorney General puts the blame on Republic and wants them to clean up the damage they have done and in some sense "make whole" the people who have endured the problems with the landfill.He says they have expert testimony saying the underground fire is approaching the northern point or space between the northern landfill and the southern landfill.  That puts the fire about one-thousand feet to the south of OU1, the radioactive material.
He is demanding the EPA do more testing for radioactive material.  Koster is protecting natural resources in Missouri, the EPA is in charge of public health.  Right now they say there is no immediate danger because nobody is drinking the groundwater that Koster says is polluted, but he still wants it cleaned up.
"Attorney Generals office is trying to get the case to court so the damage to the environment can be determined and a remedy found and put in place to fix the problem," says Koster.
He also says in the next 45 days the EPA will announce an engineering solution to stop the fire from reaching OU1.