The Looming Environmental Disaster in Missouri that Nobody is Talking About

January 2, 2016   |   Claire Bernish

Claire Bernish
January 2, 2016

(ANTIMEDIA) St. Louis, MO — What happens when radioactive byproduct from the Manhattan Project comes into contact with an “underground fire” at a landfill? Surprisingly, no one actually knows for sure; but residents of Bridgeton, Missouri, near the West Lake and Bridgeton Landfills — just northwest of the St. Louis International Airport — may find out sooner than they’d like.

And that conundrum isn’t the only issue for the area. Contradicting reports from both the government and the landfill’s responsible parties, radioactive contamination is actively leaching into the surrounding populated area from the West Lake site — and likely has been for the past 42 years.

In order to grasp this startling confluence of circumstances, it’s important to understand the history of these sites. Pertinent information either hasn’t been forthcoming or is muddied by disputes among the various government agencies and companies that should be held accountable for keeping area residents safe.

✤✤✤

West Lake Landfill was placed on the National Priorities List in 1990, giving the Environmental Protection Agency regulatory authority through its designation as a Superfund site. However, the area wasn’t a planned radioactive waste storage site. Uranium processing residue leftover from the World War II-era Manhattan Project was originally dumped there, illegally, by a contractor for former uranium processing company and General Atomics affiliate, Cotter Corporation in 1973.

Cotter, Republic Services subsidiaries Bridgeton Landfill LLC and Rock Road Industries LLC, as well as the U.S. Department of Energy are “potentially responsible parties” for West Lake under Superfund guidelines. Power company Exelon Corporation, which owned Cotter from 1974 until 2000, “agreed to retain certain financial obligations relating to environmental claims arising from past Cotter actions, including those at West Lake,” reported St. Louis Public Radio journalist, Véronique LaCapra, who has extensively covered this mess. Bridgeton Landfill falls under the regulatory control of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) and is owned and managed by Republic Services subsidiary, Bridgeton Landfill LLC.

Unfortunately, though at least 100,000 tons of nuclear weapons-related residue made their way to West Lake, the exact physical boundaries marking the location of this radioactive waste remain unknown to this day. In fact, because of the ongoing subsurface “fire” at the Bridgeton Landfill, the EPA began conducting tests, which in March 2014 detected the presence of radioactive material further south than it expected — 100 feet inside the bounds of the Bridgeton fill. According to Senior Scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C., Robert Alvarez, in a 2013 report investigating the West Lake site:

“Of significance is the fact that the largest estimated amount of thorium-230, a long-lived, highly radiotoxic element is present at West Lake — more than any other U.S. weapons storage or disposal site. Soil concentrations of radium-226 and thorium-230 are substantially greater than mill tailing waste. The waste residues from the Mallinckrodt [Chemical Works uranium processing] site were found to contain the largest concentration of thorium-230 from any single source in the United States and possibly the world. Thorium-230 concentrations were found to be some 25,000 times greater than its natural isotopic abundance. […]

“Given these circumstances, the West Lake Landfill would violate all federal legal requirements, established over 30 years ago, for licensing of a radioactive waste disposal site.”

Though the EPA promised results of testing to determine the physical extent of the makeshift nuclear disposal site would be reported by November or December, according to its site, those determinations won’t be available until early spring 2016. In the interim, a small brush fire near West Lake on October 24 prompted the EPA to order the responsible parties to implement a specific prevention work plan on December 9, due to concerns radiologically impacted material (RIM) — present in surrounding trees and vegetation — could catch fire and thus migrate from the area. In the Endangerment Determination section of the report, the EPA stated:

“The actual release or threatened release of hazardous substances at and from the Site, if not addressed by implementing the [specified steps] in this Action Memorandum, may present an imminent and substantial endangerment to public health, or welfare, and the environment.”

Later that month, torrential rains brought what is now being described as ongoing historic flooding to the area — and with it, yet another set of problems and controversy to West Lake Landfill and the people of Bridgeton and nearby Coldwater Creek.

On Dec 30, a peer-reviewed study, published in the Journal for Environmental Radioactivity, disclosed a startling fact about West Lake: radiological contamination has, indeed, seeped outside the already vague boundaries of the site. According to the study:

“Analysis of 287 soil, sediment, and house dust samples collected in a 200 km2 [77.2 mi2] zone in northern St. Louis County, Missouri, establish that offsite migration of radiological contaminants from Manhattan Project-era uranium processing wastes has occurred in this populated area.

In fact, nearly half the samples were found to have concentrations of Lead-210 above the acceptable limits established by the U.S. Department of Energy in managing the uranium plant in Fernald, Ohio, which stored the same Manhattan Project-era wastes. The samples “are consistent with water and radon gas releases” from landfill sites employed for storage of such legacy uranium. Alvarez, who wrote the previously-mentioned report in 2013 and who co-authored this study, stated in an interview Tuesday,

“The stuff we’re talking about at West Lake is hotter than what you would find in a typical uranium mill tailings operation.”

As the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has previously explained, West Lake Landfill emits radon gas because of the radium, thorium, uranium, and other radioactive substances in the decay series. This radon gas decays into Lead-210, a solid particulate — which is the substance the study investigated — once it drifts from the site. Because the Lead-210 detected in the samples “showed distinctive secular disequilibrium among uranium and its progeny indicative of uranium ore processing wastes” — in other words, distinguishable from naturally-occurring uranium — “this is strong evidence that the Lead-210 originated by decay of short-lived, fugitive radon gas that escaped the landfill.”

As journalist Byron DeLear noted in the Examiner, “It’s important to recognize that the radon daughters, Lead-210, Polonium, Bismuth, etc., are what makes radon exposure the second leading cause of lung cancer.

Earlier this week, as rain inundated the area, several stills and videos uploaded to the West Lake Landfill Facebook page evidenced spontaneous, active runoff waterfalls flowing directly from areas designated radioactive, collecting in pools, traveling in drainage ditches to streams and creeks — and ultimately, pouring into the now epically-flooded Missouri River. “How could anyone make the argument that RIM is not leaving that site?” State Rep. Bill Otto asked rhetorically after viewing the footage. But EPA spokesperson, Angela Brees, did exactly that, saying — despite strikingly plain evidence to the contrary — the runoff rainwater “came from within the Bridgeton Landfill.”

There is, of course, yet another aspect to this radioactive tangle: the ongoing subsurface fire at Bridgeton Landfill, West Lake’s all-too-immediate neighbor.

✤✤✤

Technically, what is occurring isn’t a typical fire with thick, black smoke and flames; rather, “it is a self-sustaining, high-temperature reaction that consumes waste underground, producing rapid ‘settlement’ of the landfill’s surface.”

Bridgeton Landfill LLC alerted MDNR on Dec. 23, 2010, that it discovered high levels of carbon monoxide and hydrogen, low levels of methane, as well as elevated temperatures from several gas extraction wells in the area of the fill known as the south quarry — all indicators of a chemical reaction known as a “subsurface smoldering event” or “underground fire.”

Todd Thalhammer, a landfill fire consultant with the state of Missouri, explained there are several characteristics to determine the presence of an ongoing subsurface fire, including underground temperatures in excess of 170°F and substantial settlement of the land in a short time period. At Bridgeton, an event Thalhammer described as both “catastrophic” and “preventable,”  temperatures have been recorded over 300°F, and Republic Services stated the hottest area of the fire is settling at a rate of two to three feet per month. Though it would be impossible to determine the exact cause of this fire, often, such events occur if oxygen manages to permeate below the surface should underground gases be vented too rapidly.

Residents in Bridgeton and nearby Coldwater Creek noticed unusually strong fumes from the fill beginning in early spring 2012, for which MDNR began more frequent monitoring. Though unsafe levels of certain compounds are occasionally indicated, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) recommends “that during periods of objectionable odor, sensitive individuals should stay indoors as much as possible …”

✤✤✤

Of greater urgency for many, partly due to a number of unknowns, concerns the increasing likelihood the subsurface fire will reach and ignite the nuclear weapons-waste material.

As of May 2013, Republic estimated the fire to be only 1,200 feet from the radioactive waste, but this contradicted Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster’s determination the same month that the distance measured just 1,000 feet. Of course, until the bounds of the radioactive waste are thoroughly mapped, it’s impossible to determine an accurate distance — but, as mentioned above, the EPA found evidence that waste extended 100 feet into the landfill, which would make that distance a mere 900 feet.

In September, Koster released nine reports about the West Lake and Bridgeton maelstrom. In one of those reports, landfill fire expert Tony Sperling explained the subsurface fire had “unequivocally” gone beyond two gas interceptor wells designed to halt its progress, and with “the reaction moving closer to the North Quarry there exists only a very limited window to take further action to prevent [the underground fire] from once again escalating out of control and causing additional hardship on the community of Bridgeton.”

Sperling inexplicably backed down from the emphatic statement in a deposition in October, but his original assertion certainly raised the level of concern. Republic continues to contest claims the fire isn’t contained within the south quarry, and says temperatures have stabilized in the so-called ‘neck’ area running between the landfill and the nuclear waste fill.

All of this depends on the rate at which the underground reaction is advancing, which, unsurprisingly, is also an open question.

✤✤✤

In June 2013, the MDNR commissioned a report that found the fire had slowed its advancement from a rate of three feet per day to around one to two feet per day. Then, in March 2014, a spokesperson for Republic said the rate had slowed to a mere six inches per month, though MDNR did not corroborate, except to agree — based on the company’s temperature evaluation along with physical observations by Bridgeton Landfill — the subsurface fire had “slowed substantially.”

However, Sperling’s report last month claimed drastically accelerated figures, stating the fire had spread north into the neck area of the site, while the reaction in the south quarry sped along at around 150 to 300 feet per month, or five to ten feet per day. If the smoldering reaction were to advance into the north quarry at a similar rate, “high temperatures from the reaction could conceivably reach [the radioactive waste area] in 3 to 6 months.” Sperling’s report came out in September.

The EPA disputes all the findings in Koster’s reports, saying the agency “completely disagrees” and hasn’t found evidence to support claims the fire is nearing the radioactive fill at all.

In order to better understand what would happen should the subsurface fire actually reach the radioactive waste, in 2014, Kansas City Region 7 EPA asked officials from the EPA in Cincinnati to review a report prepared by contractor Engineering Management Support, Inc. In March of that year, the Cincinnati EPA published its analysis, which agreed heat from the reaction would not make the waste more or less radioactive, nor would it explode on its own; however, due to possible unknown substances mixed with the radiological materials, the potential for explosion does exist.

Second, in 2008, the EPA released its Record of Decision, which proposed a “cap” of clay, rock, and soil to constrain the weapons-waste to the West Lake site. Though capping hasn’t begun, it now appears such a cap would be adversely affected by heat generated from the subsurface reaction — thus cracking and releasing radon gas, steam, and radioactive dust.

Further, the constant heat generation could increase pressure below the surface under the cap and force the release of radon gas — which, if only inspected once a year, could avoid detection for months. Also, should the fire continue consuming radioactive waste long-term, area residents would be exposed to unsafe levels of radon gas. Further still, liquid building up below the surface could evacuate radon gas and other radioactive contaminants into groundwater supply.

✤✤✤

Residents near the smoldering fill have expressed increasing frustration with the quarreling agencies offering few answers for an increasing number of health issues, like asthma. Meanwhile, a group of residents in Coldwater Creek, nearer the West Lake site, filed a class action lawsuit against Mallinckrodt, the original handler of the nuclear waste material, claiming there have been an astonishing 2,700 cancer cases clustered around the creek — including a number of rare cases of appendix cancer. Even fully testing the creek for radioactive materials will take years to complete.

By its very nature, this incredibly complex and interwoven morass makes solutions difficult and laboriously slow in coming. Theoretical fixes that could apply to, say, containing radioactive materials to the West Lake site, might have negative consequences should the long-smoldering subsurface reaction come into play. Inaction in containing the subsurface fire, in the hope of definitively locating bounds of radioactive waste, have meant further advancement of that very fire in the meantime. With so many unknowns, St. Louis County issued an emergency plan in 2014 “to save lives in the event of a catastrophic event at the West Lake Landfill” — which, though well-intentioned, did nothing to calm nervous residents in the area.

For now, it’s startlingly apparent no one knows exactly what’s happening with the West Lake and Bridgeton Landfills — though the smoldering below the surface doesn’t cease and floodwaters continue to rise.


This article (The Looming Environmental Disaster in Missouri that Nobody is Talking About) is free and open source. You have permission to republish this article under a Creative Commons license with attribution to Claire Bernish and theAntiMedia.org. Anti-Media Radio airs weeknights at 11pm Eastern/8pm Pacific. Image credit: Daniel Schwen. If you spot a typo, email edits@theantimedia.org.

Author: Claire Bernish

Claire Bernish joined Anti-Media as an independent journalist in May of 2015. Her topics of interest include thwarting war propaganda through education, the refugee crisis & related issues, 1st Amendment concerns, ending police brutality, and general government & corporate accountability. Born in North Carolina, she now lives in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Share This Post On

17 Comments

  1. The safety of 3 million Americans in the metro area are at stake. The time for company and government delay is over. The work to protect citizens must begin immediately. A major nuclear disaster in St. Louis could lead to trillion dollar expenses. Fix it now before we suffer our own American Fukushima.

    Post a Reply
  2. A continuance of our government to do as little as possible to protect its citizens.

    Post a Reply
  3. A continuance of our government to do as little as possible to protect its citizens.

    Post a Reply
  4. Nothing to see here, move along.

    Now, let's get back to the real environmental disaster, man-made Global Warming

    Post a Reply
  5. There is No Carbon, Methane or Nuclear atmospheric Budget !

    "Porter Ranch Ca. The enormity of the Aliso Canyon gas leak cannot be overstated. Gas is escaping through a ruptured pipe more than 8,000 feet underground and it shows no sign of stopping.

    As the pressure from weight on top of the pipe causes the gas to diffuse, it only continues to dissipate across a wider and wider area.

    According to tests conducted in November by the California Air Resources Board, the leak is spewing 50,000 kilograms of gas per hour—the equivalent to the strength of a volcanic eruption.

    At this rate, in just one month, the leak will have accounted for one-quarter of the total estimated methane emissions in the state of California." Erin Brockovich

    There is No Carbon, Methane, or Nuclear Budget !

    "Climate outlook may be worse than feared

    The impact of climate change may be worse than previously thought, a new study suggests.

    As world leaders hold climate talks in Paris, research shows that land surface temperatures may rise by an average of almost 8C by 2100, if significant efforts are not made to counteract climate change.

    Such a rise would have a devastating impact on life on Earth.

    It would place billions of people at risk from extreme temperatures, flooding, regional drought, and food shortages.
    Climbing emissions

    The study calculated the likely effect of increasing atmospheric levels of greenhouse gases above pre-industrialisation amounts.

    It finds that if emissions continue to grow at current rates, with no significant action taken by society, then by 2100 global land temperatures will have increased by 7.9C, compared with 1750.

    This finding lies at the very uppermost range of temperature rise as calculated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

    It also breaches the United Nations’ safe limit of 2C, beyond which the UN says dangerous climate change can be expected." University of Edinburgh

    Solar power is prevalent in California but, last month, the state made a move many are calling a big mistake.

    Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law a measure that requires the state to obtain half of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030.

    However, rooftop solar panels were excluded from the bill, which means utility companies will have to pay more to find renewable energy elsewhere, because the surplus energy they buy back from individual homeowners will not count toward the state’s goals." Cat DiStasio

    California Emitted 459 Million Toxic Tons of Carbon Dioxide in 2014.

    Gov Browns call to reduce this to 1990 levels so we can continue to emit over 400 million Toxic Tons a year, will not help us stop or slow down Global Warming and Sea Levels Rising.

    2020 Limit – AB 32 is now slightly higher than the 427 MMTCO2e in the initial Scoping Plan." Ca. Gov. Data

    Ban Fracking ! Gov. Brown Stop Poisoning California Water !

    Close 100 of the 108 Bottle Watering Facilities in California !

    Golf on Gray Water or Close Golf Course

    Grow For Local and Regional Farming Circle, Federal and State Policies Must Change !

    Atmospheric Parts Per Million of Carbon is Now 404

    In the 1850 Carbon PPM was 260 – 280

    What will the Temp. be at 415 ppm ?

    "Ice sheets contain enormous quantities of frozen water. If the Greenland Ice Sheet melted, scientists estimate that sea level would rise about 6 meters (20 feet). If the Antarctic Ice Sheet melted, sea level would rise by about 60 meters (200 feet)." National Snow and Ice Data Center.

    There Are Over 400 Nuclear Reactors and All Their Fuel Rods ! At Sea Level Now !

    Relocate All Nuclear Fuel Rods and Contaminated Metals above 3,000 Ft!

    There Is No Carbon, Methane, or Nuclear Budget !

    Arctic 80% melted, Greenland is Keeping North America Cool, For How Long ? Antarctica is Melting as Well, When Will It Melt ? and All the Glaciers used to keep the Mantle Cooler !

    We must transition to 100% Renewable Energy, and All Solar, Residential and Commercial Buildings should be Counted in the Stated Renewable Energy Mandate !

    Time to Level the Playing Field, With Time Running Out Preparing For Global Warming an Sea Leveling Rising over 220 feet

    Implement a California Residential and Commercial Feed in Tariff.

    California Residential Feed in Tariff would allow homeowners to sell their Renewable Energy to the utility, protecting our communities from, Global Warming, Poison Water, Grid Failures, Natural Disasters, Toxic Natural Gas and Oil Fracking.

    A California Commercial FiT in Los Angeles, Palo Alto, an Sacramento Ca. are operating NOW, paying the Business Person 17 cents cents per kilowatt hour.

    Sign and Share this petition for a California Residential Feed in Tariff.http://signon.org/sign/let-california-home-owners

    Post a Reply
  6. Magnetic pole shift + iron in the core = increased internal temperature due to iron being excited by the moving magnetic field which does not = man made climate change.

    Stop fear mongering.

    Psst, that Iceland volcano that erupted a few years ago wiped out 10 years of carbon reduction by man. Things that make you go hmmm.

    Post a Reply
  7. Jeff Benkovic Simple minds, Scientific Fact:The Polar Ice Caps and Glaciation, Waxing and Waning for over 3 million years, on this Earth kept the Mantle Cooler, and the Ring of Fire in The Pacific Rim, is a measurement of That Jeff, Look up the Volcanic activity, Stop Lying or worse not knowing what you are saying !

    Post a Reply
  8. Nowy serwis z aukcjami na którym można kupić np Laptopa za 20 złotych

    http://www.zataj.pl/sD3Uz

    Polecam serwis, póki co mało użytkowników i łatwo się wygrywa 🙂

    Ja wylicytowałem nowy telewizor smart za 169 złotych 🙂

    Post a Reply
  9. Jeff Benkovic Jeff, show your work.

    That means digging up actual facts from peer-reviewed work, not some jack-off distraction cooked up at the Cato Institute or wherever you libertarian loons pretend do academics.

    Post a Reply
  10. G­­o­­­o­­­g­­l­­e­­­ i­­s­­ <­­-p­­a­­y­­i­­n­­g­­ 9­­7­­$ p­­e­­r h­­o­­u­­r! ­­W­­o­­r­­k ­­f­­­­o­­r ­­f­­­­e­­­­w­­ h­­­­o­­u­­r­­s ­­a­­n­­d h­­a­­v­­e l­­o­­n­­g­­e­­r w­­i­­t­­h­­ f­­­­r­­i­­e­­n­­d­­s & ­­f­­a­­m­­i­­l­­y­­! ­­O­­n ­­t­­u­­e­­s­­d­­a­­y I g­­o­­t a­­ g­­r­­e­­a­­t ­­n­­e­­w­­ L­­a­­n­­d­­ R­­o­­v­­e­­r ­­R­­a­­n­­g­­e ­­R­­o­­v­­e­­r­­ f­­r­­o­­m h­­a­­v­­i­­n­­g e­­a­­r­­n­­e­­d­­ $­­8­­7­­2 t­­h­­i­­s ­­l­­a­­s­­t­­ f­­o­­u­­r­­ w­­e­­­­e­­k­­s. ­­I­­t­­s­­ t­­h­­e­­ m­­o­­s­­t-­­f­­i­­n­­a­­n­­c­­i­­a­­l­­y­­ r­­e­­w­­a­­r­­d­­i­­n­­g ­­I­­'­­v­­e ­­h­­a­­d­­.­­ I­­t­­ s­­o­­u­­n­­d­­s­­ u­­n­­b­­e­­l­­i­­e­­v­­a­­b­­l­­e­­ b­­u­­t ­­y­­o­­u w­­o­­n­­t f­­o­­r­­g­­i­­v­­e

    lllllllllllw­w­w.­ba­nk­no­w­5­4­­.­­c­­o­mlllllllllllllllllllllllll

    Post a Reply
  11. I earn 25 dollars every 30 minutes. Work for few hours and have longer time with friends and family. for details check this link.

    w­­­w­­­w.f­­­r­­­e­­­e­­­l­­­a­­­n­­­c­­­e-c­­­a­­­s­­­h.c­­­o­­­mCOPY THE LINK

    Post a Reply
  12. I earn 25 dollars every 30 minutes. Work for few hours and have longer time with friends and family. for details check this link.

    w­­­w­­­w.f­­­r­­­e­­­e­­­l­­­a­­­n­­­c­­­e-c­­­a­­­s­­­h.c­­­o­­­mCOPY THE LINK

    Post a Reply
  13. s­­t­­a­­t w­­or­­k­­i­­ng­­ at home­­ wi­­th G­­o­­g­­e. I­t’s t­he­ m­­st­­-f­i­n­an­ci­aly r­e­wa­rdi­g I'­v­e e­ve­r d­on­e. On t­­es­day­ I­ g­o­t a g­rg­e­u­s B­M­W a­er­ h­a­v­­­n­g e­a­r­n­e­d $­8­6­9­9 t­h­is l­a­st m­o­n­t­h. I a­c­t­u­a­­l­­ly s­t­a­rted­ ­f­iv­e ­and pr­­ac­t­­ic­ally­ s­t­­ra­igh­t aw­ay was ­br­­ing­i­n i­n a­t l­ea­st­ $96­, p­r-­h­our. v­i­s­it­ th­i­­s si­te r­g­h­t h­­e­r­e

    ➤➤➤➤➤➤http://­­­­­­­­e­­­­­­­­x­­­­­­­­t­­­­­­­­r­­­­­­­­a­­­­­­­­-­­­­­­­­s­­­­­­­­a­­­­­­­­l­­­­­­­­a­­­­­­­­r­­­­­­­­i­­­­­­­­e­­­­­­­­s­­­­­­­­.­­­­­­­­t­­­­­­­­k­­­­­­­­/……………..W­­o­­r­­k­­ A­­t ­­H­­o­­m­­e­­
    C­­o­­p­­y­­&­­P­­a­­s­­t­­e­­ T­­h­­i­­s­­ L­­i­­n­­k (santa) Good Luck (santa)

    Post a Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *