Massive Underground Landfill Fire Nears Radioactive Waste

A massive, smoldering, underground fire at a St. Louis-area landfill is on the verge of coming in contact with radioactive waste dumped decades ago, and no one seems to know how to deal with it.  That’s what I learned during a public forum about the issue Thursday night in the St. Louis suburb of Maryland Heights.

Rather than rehash who said what at the forum, I direct your attention to reports by KSDK reporter Grant Bissell (above) and Leisa Zigman (below) which combine to offer a snapshot of the most-pressing concerns of residents in North St. Louis County.

In short, a massive underground fire — which covers a subterranean area the size of three football fields — at the Bridgeton Landfill is about to come in contact with radioactive waste dumped decades earlier at the adjacent West Lake Landfill.

Why was radioactive waste dumped at the landfill?  Unbeknownst to many area residents, St. Louis was home to Mallinckrodt Chemical Works, a company that was the first to process uranium for use in our nation’s first atomic bombs as part of the World War II-era Manhattan Project.  After running out of space for the radioactive waste from their processing efforts, they began shipping it to other area locations, including the West Lake Landfill.  It remains there today.  On the surface of the Missouri River flood plain.  Exposed to the elements.

Click to read more reports in my coverage about radioactive waste in the St. Louis area.

Click to read more reports in my coverage about radioactive waste in the St. Louis area.

Aside from the long-term public health crisis involving what many residents describe as “cancer clusters” and other deadly affects of long-term radiation exposure, the most-pressing immediate concern is the fact no one on the planet seems to have experience dealing with this dangerous intersection where fire and radioactive waste collide.

As I stated in my most recent post, RADIOACTIVE WASTE CRISIS Like Plot From A Horror Film, I’ll be following the issues in North County closely.  Meanwhile, though I cannot attest to the accuracy of all of the information the websites below contain, I recommend you visit them to learn more about the potential scope of this crisis:

Coldwater Creek, Just the Facts Facebook Page;

Coldwater Creek Facts;

St. Louis Radiation Waste Legacy;

Weldon Spring Facebook Page; and

West Lake Landfill Facebook Page.

UPDATE 1/31/2014 at 7:09 p.m. Central:  Many of the members of the groups above are particularly in seeing the Army Corps of Engineers replace the EPA as the lead agency on cleaning up the radioactive waste sites in St. Louis.  If this news is any indication, I’d say they’re on the right track.

Bob McCarty is the author of Three Days In August (Oct '11) and THE CLAPPER MEMO (May '13). To learn more about either book or to place an order, click on the graphic above.

Bob McCarty is the author of Three Days In August (Oct ’11) and THE CLAPPER MEMO (May ’13). To learn more about either book or to place an order, click on the graphic above.

RADIOACTIVE WASTE CRISIS Like Plot From A Horror Film

One might mistake it for a plot out of a horror film or a slow-motion Fukushima disaster:  Underground fires at one landfill move closer and closer toward radioactive waste dumped decades earlier at another landfill.  At the same time, thousands of citizens, including many already suffering from a plethora of what they believe to be radiation-related diseases, are seeking help from the “powers that be.”

Slide of Fires at St. Louis-Area Landfill

Representatives of the Missouri Coalition for the Environment presented an overview of the danger as underground fires at one landfill approach another landfill where radioactive waste was dumped decades ago.

On the evening of Jan. 15, I was one of almost 200 people who attended an informational meeting in Bridgeton, Mo., during which the issues above were discussed in great detail.  Among those in attendance were a handful of individuals who described how their lives had been changed forever by losses of loved ones to supposedly-rare cancers.  They were introduced as being representative of hundreds — perhaps thousands — of families in the area of North St. Louis County (a.k.a., “North County”) forever impacted in similar ways.

Yesterday, a fellow attendee at the meeting forwarded a copy of a 142-page report (PDF) published in May 1982 by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.  If you don’t want to download the entire report, however, the abstract alone is enough to cause you to pause.  Below, I share an excerpt from that abstract, complete with my red highlighting added for emphasis:

Click to download the 142-page report (PDF).

Click to download the 142-page report (PDF).

Results indicate that large volumes of uranium ore residues, probably originating from the Hazelwood, Missouri, Latty Avenue site, have been buried at the West Lake Landfill.  Two areas of contamination, covering more than 15 acres and located at depths of up to 20 feet below the present surface, have been identified.  There is no indication that significant quantities of contaminants are moving off-site at this time.

Fifteen acres of land contaminated with radioactive uranium ore residues at depths up to 20 feet below the surface and, oh yeah, elsewhere in the report in mentions that the landfill is in an alluvial floodplain, seemingly discounting the reliability of the last line in the excerpt from the 32-year-old report.

Click to read more reports in my coverage about radioactive waste in the St. Louis area.

Click to read more reports in my coverage about radioactive waste at the Weldon Spring Site in St. Charles County, Mo.

The NRC report is not, however, the first I have obtained about radioactive waste issues in the Show-Me State.  On Jan. 23, 2012, I was the only investigative reporter on the planet to report the existence of a then-new Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services report, known officially as the Analysis of Leukemia Incidence and Mortality Data for St. Charles County, Weldon Spring and Surrounding Areas December 2011 (Update to April 2005 Report) and unofficially as the “Weldon Spring Update” or “2011 Weldon Spring Cancer Inquiry Report.”

During the 13 months since publishing the first article, I published nine more articles (not including this one) in my series, Uphill Battle for Answers.  The two most-recent articles, here and here, introduced my readers to matters at the sites in North County.

Because of the intense interest surfacing in this subject matter, I’ve decided to expand my coverage of the issues in North County during the next year.  Until I begin sharing new reports, however, I suggest you read the Wall Street Journal‘s Dec. 29 report, Neighbors Fume at Radioactive Dump, by John Emshwiller and search online for other recent stories.

This will be interesting, so stay tuned.

Bob McCarty is the author of Three Days In August (Oct '11) and THE CLAPPER MEMO (May '13). To learn more about either book or to place an order, click on the graphic above.

Bob McCarty is the author of Three Days In August (Oct ’11) and THE CLAPPER MEMO (May ’13). To learn more about either book or to place an order, click on the graphic above.

Radioactive Waste Dangers Surface Again in Saint Louis

KSDK-TV’s Leisa Zigman shared a series of investigative reports this week about cancer clusters many believe stem from piles of radioactive waste being dumped in the St. Louis area decades ago.

Zigman’s first report for the NBC affiliate (above) highlighted a cancer cluster map of St. Louis and spotlighted dumping near St. Louis’ Lambert International Airport and toxic runoff into nearby Coldwater Creek.

Her second report (below) focused on the Westlake Landfill, where a reported 8,000 tons of radioactive waste was allowed to be dumped in a flood plain, close to public water sources and without any barriers or other protective measures installed.

Zigman’s reports dovetail nicely with an exclusive story I broke 54 weeks ago about a controversial report about cancer rates among people living in the vicinity of the Department of Energy’s Weldon Spring Site in St. Charles County, Mo.  The site had been placed on the EPA’s National Priorities List in 1987 because of the potential for groundwater contamination to adversely affect a drinking water well field less than a mile away that served 60,000 users in the area.

Uphill Battle

Click to read reports in my series, “Uphill Battle for Answers.”

Likewise, her reports complement the handful of follow-up efforts I’ve shared in my series, Uphill Battle for Answers.

Among my reports, I predicted that radiation exposure-related lawsuits were on the horizon after attending a meeting in St. Louis during which a gaggle of New York City personal-injury lawyers were hunting for potential clients.

In addition, I reported on how I had reached the conclusion that several Missouri state legislators seemed less interested in cancer dangers affecting people in their districts than they were in passing measures having to do with jumping jacks and butterflies.

Finally, after investigating similarities between the Weldon Spring Site and a “sister” site in Ohio, I used a headline to ask the question, Do Residents Living Near Weldon Spring Site Deserve Compensation for Radiation Exposure?

Now that KSDK-TV has entered the fray by reporting on this topic, I expect more questions — and more reports — will follow.  Stay tuned!

UPDATE 2/7/2013 at 8:38 p.m. Central:  Apparently, a handful of Missouri state legislators — including one mentioned in my post March 26, 2012 — paid attention to the KSDK-TV report and decided to unveil some of what Culture Vigilante Lisa Payne-Naeger calls “Yankee Doodle Legislation” requesting the U.S. Congress transfer authority for the remediation of the West Lake Landfill from the EPA to the Corps of Engineers’ FUSRAP project with the urgent, related request that the wastes be excavated from the Missouri River flood plain and be transported to a licensed radioactive waste facility, away from water and away from people.  It’s a start, I guess.

"Three Days In August" Promotional PhotoBob McCarty is the author of Three Days In August: A U.S. Army Special Forces Soldier’s Fight For Military Justice, a nonfiction book that’s available in paperback and ebook via most online booksellers, including Amazon.com. His second book, The CLAPPER MEMO, is coming soon was released May 2013.

Missouri State Legislators Not Inclined to Place High Priority on 2011 Weldon Spring Cancer Report

March has been a miserable month for me when it comes to dealing with Republican Party officials in my own backyard.

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While most of my interaction about “things Republican” has revolved around the 2012 St. Charles County (Mo.) Republican Presidential Caucus, other interactions have involved GOP members of the Missouri House of Representatives.

During the first week of March, I made multiple attempts to contact several of those representatives with questions I had regarding the “2011 Weldon Spring Cancer Inquiry Report,” a four-page document published by the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services that was the subject of an exclusive article I broke Jan. 23.

The Weldon Spring Site in St. Charles County, Mo., was contaminated during the production of 2, 4, 6 – trinitrotoluene (TNT) and 2, 4 and 2,6 Dinitrotoluene (DNT) by the U.S. Department of Army from 1941 to 1945 and from enrichment of uranium ore and thorium processing by the Atomic Energy Commission from 1958 to 1966, according to an earlier MDHSS document, the 2005 Weldon Spring Cancer Report.

EDITOR’S NOTE:  To learn more background information about this matter, you might want to read my article, Missouri Health Agency Officials Refuse to Answer Questions About New Weldon Spring Cancer Report, before reading the rest of this piece.

Those initial contact attempts, made between March 2 and March 6, involved sending three separate Facebook messages to five state representatives – Kurt Bahr of O’Fallon, Kathie Conway of St. Charles, Chuck Gatschenberger of Lake Saint Louis, Mark Parkinson of St. Peters and Anne Zerr of St. Charles.  My goal was to find out what each is doing, or planning to do, to obtain answers for their constituents about the controversial report.

Reps. Kurt Bahr and Kathie Conway

To their credit, Representatives Bahr and Conway replied soon after being contacted.  Both admitted they were not extremely familiar with the topic, both explained they were very busy with legislative matters in Jefferson City, and both gave me the initial impression that the matter isn’t likely to become a “front-burner issue” anytime soon.

Sadly, three of the state representatives – Gatschenberger, Parkinson and Zerr (shown below) — chose not to reply, leading me to come up with several possible reasons for their failures to respond:

• They place a low priority on the health and well-being of their constituents who live in the shadow of the Weldon Spring Site 30 miles west of St. Louis;

• They haven’t been asked often enough by their constituents to look into the matter;

• They place a low priority on inquiries from non-mainstream media reporters like me;

• They don’t want to have their names attached to such a potentially-volatile political “hot potato” during an election year;

• They believe ignorance is bliss; or

• Last but not least, it’s possible they don’t check their Facebook messages very often.

On March 7, I decided to give them the benefit of the doubt regarding the Facebook possibility and send the same basic inquiry to all five state representatives via their official state email addresses.  Interestingly, the same two representatives who had replied to my Facebook messages replied to the email, and the same three representatives who had not replied to my Facebook messages did not reply to the email.

On the positive side, Representative Conway‘s reply came the same day and seemed to display genuine interest in the issue.

Not so positively, Representative Bahr‘s reply came the following day, was copied to all four of his colleagues, and didn’t leave me with a warm and fuzzy feeling.

After he labeled me “the expert” on the matter at hand, Representative Bahr demanded I offer a solution before he would devote time to the matter.  In a “Reply to All” message, I refused the expert label and went on to share my beliefs that elected and unelected state officials must be responsive and that the issues raised in the report are not the kind to be solved quickly.  I closed by explaining what, at a minimum, officials at the state health agency should be required to do.

My short to-do list included requiring MDHSS officials to explain how they reached the conclusions they had reached in the report, to answer why they’ve refused to answer any questions from reporters — including Blythe Bernhard at the Post-Dispatch and me — about the report, and to respond to criticism of the report, such as that offered by Washington University Professor Robert Criss in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch article, Report on cancer report from Weldon Spring site assailed.  It was published Feb. 20, four weeks after my initial article.

Interestingly, I ran into Representative Parkinson Saturday at the aforementioned caucus (a.k.a., “St. Patrick’s Day Massacre”), a topic about which I’ve written and published nine posts to date (not including this one).  He was manning the first chair at a long table of GOP officials processing caucus registrations.

When my turn to register came, I asked Representative Parkinson why he had not responded to any of my messages about Weldon Spring.  He said he had not seen them and acted like he didn’t know what I was talking about.

The conversation continued, and Representative Parkinson asked me to provide details about the issue.  I told him it was Weldon Spring, that he should read his email from me and — cognizant of the fact that 300 people were waiting behind me in the long caucus registration line — that “now” wasn’t the time or the place to discuss the matter.

As I started to walk away, Representative Parkinson asked if I, as “the expert” on the Weldon Spring matter, would like to discuss it over coffee.  I replied by telling him I would prefer to handle the matter more expediently, without wasting more time, via his response to my email message.

Later, while waiting for the caucus to begin inside the larger of two gymnasiums at Francis Howell North High School in St. Peters, Representative Parkinson approached me and again assured me that he had not seen any of my messages.  In response, I told him I found it odd that he had referred to me earlier as “the expert” – in much the same way Representative Bahr had in his aforementioned email — even though he said he had not seen any of the messages related to me.  The conversation ended there, and I went back to my seat in the bleachers.

A few hours after the caucus ended, Representative Parkinson sent me the Facebook message below, shown verbatim:

Bob…after an exhaustive search of my inbox (mark.parkinson@house.mo.gov) I can not find any corresoondence from you on this issue. I don’t check facebook mail often (or at all). Please direct any official correspondence to the above email address.

We can discuss this issue when we sit down to discuss the other.

Mark

My response — “Mark – Perhaps you should look more closely. See screenshot of the message to you from my email “SENT” folder. – Bob” — was accompanied by a screenshot (taken March 18 and shown below) as evidence that Representative Parkinson had received the same message that all of his colleagues received.

Is it possible that Representative Parkinson is just computer illiterate?  Sure, it’s possible.  But I think that’s a stretch.

Instead, I believe he received my message but chose to ignore it.  My belief is augmented by the fact that my email message sent to the five state representatives did not produce any bounce-back messages like those I received on a handful of occasions in the past after I had used incorrect email addresses when trying to communicate with Missouri legislators.  [FYI:  As of this publication, I have still not received any email response from Representative Parkinson.]

Finally, it’s certainly worth noting that I ran into Representative Conway at the caucus, too.

During two brief discussions, she (1) seemed to express genuine interest in the matter, (2) told me she had read the materials to which I had provided links, and (3) gave me the feeling she would follow up on the matter.  Then, lo and behold, she contacted me via Facebook message to let me know she had contacted MDHSS and had more questions.  So much for that “initial impression” I mentioned early in this piece.

Sadly, the other state representatives’ responses and failures to respond raise more questions then they answer.

That in mind, I would like to offer a suggestion to readers (1) who live in one of the zip codes (63301, 63303, 63304, 63366 and 63376) covered by the cancer report, (2) who live in a zip code near the Weldon Spring Site or (3) who simply think these state legislators should be interested in this matter.  Use the information below to contact them in Jefferson City and let them know:

Rep. Kurt Bahr — 573-751-9768 or Kurt.Bahr@house.mo.gov;

Rep. Kathie Conway — 573-751-2250 or Kathie.Conway@house.mo.gov;

Rep. Chuck Gatschenberger — 573-751-3572 or Chuck.Gatschenberger@house.mo.gov;

Rep. Mark Parkinson — 573-751-2949 or Mark.Parkinson@house.mo.gov; and

Rep. Anne Zerr — 573-751-3717 or Anne.Zerr@house.mo.gov.

UPDATE 3/28/12 at 5:12 p.m. Central:  Though they don’t have time to investigate serious public health issues, members of the Missouri House of Representatives voted today in favor of making jumping jacks the official state exercise.  Hmmm?

UNRELATED, BUT WORTH A LOOK:  Check out my book, Three Days In August: A U.S. Army Special Forces Soldier’s Fight For Military Justice.

Post-Dispatch Omits One Important Element From Article About Weldon Spring Cancer Report

Imagine my surprise when I awoke this morning to find the St. Louis Post-Dispatch had finally published something about the latest Weldon Spring Cancer Report, issued stealthily by the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services late last year, but failed to give credit where credit is due — to me!

Click image to read relates stories.

On Jan. 23, I was the only investigative reporter on the planet to publish an article about the existence of the new report, known officially as the Analysis of Leukemia Incidence and Mortality Data for St. Charles County, Weldon Spring and Surrounding Areas December 2011 (Update to April 2005 Report) and unofficially as the “Weldon Spring Update” or “2011 Weldon Spring Cancer Inquiry Report.”  Had it not been for my report, it’s very likely that no one would have learned about the MDHSS report released to me Dec. 29 at 5:04 p.m. after nine months of “birddogging” by yours truly.

Eleven days later, Post-Dispatch medical reporter Blythe Bernhard contacted me about the story I had published.  Of course, she asked me to explain my interest in the story and to recount how I had come to obtain the report, etc.  In addition, she asked me to put her in contact with some of the people mentioned in my piece.

This morning, Bernhard’s story included only one mention of me in the form of this comment:

“When you have something like this you don’t hide it; you at least let people know because they paid for it, especially people in the affected areas,” said Bob McCarty, who lives in the county and writes a political blog. “I’m not an environmentalist. I’ve never hugged a tree. If it’s all good, so be it, but the one thing they need to do is communicate better.”

While I’m pleased that the story received more attention, I’m disgusted — but not surprised — that the Post-Dispatch took the approach to the story that they did.  It’s no wonder the Lee Enterprises-owned newspaper filed for bankruptcy protection last year.

EDITOR’S NOTE:  To read my stories about the Weldon Spring Site and related stories, click here.

UPDATE 2/22/12 at 8:15 p.m. Central:  Below are links to other local media outlets that picked up on the story I broke Jan. 23:

Geochemist Highly Critical of Weldon Spring Report (CBS Local)

Daily Dose: Report on Cancer Risk at Weldon Springs is Questioned (Patch.com)

Health Advocates Criticize State Report on Weldon Spring (KMOX)

Be sure to check out my new book, Three Days In August: A U.S. Army Special Forces Soldier’s Fight For Military Justice.

UPDATE 3/15/12 at 9:41 p.m. Central:  I noticed today that the St. Louis Post-Dispatch scrubbed almost 30 comments from their Feb. 20 story about the Weldon Spring Site.  Makes on wonder why they got rid of the comments.

Local News Outlets Interested in Weldon Spring

Eleven days after publishing an exclusive story about Missouri health agency officials refusing to answer questions or inform St. Charles County (Mo.) residents about a new Weldon Spring cancer report, it appears that story is beginning to attract attention from St. Louis-area news media outlets.

Click here to read related stories.

Yesterday, I received an email from Blythe Bernhard, medical reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.  She wrote that she wanted to talk with me about the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services’ new report, known officially as the Analysis of Leukemia Incidence and Mortality Data for St. Charles County, Weldon Spring and Surrounding Areas December 2011 (Update to April 2005 Report) and unofficially as the “Weldon Spring Update” or “2011 Weldon Spring Cancer Inquiry Report.”

I called Bernhard at the phone number she had provided and, during the brief conversation that followed, she asked what concerned me most about the report.

Most importantly, I told her it wasn’t the report’s data as much as it was the ways in which MDHSS officials worded the report and failed to make its contents known to people living near the Weldon Spring Site, located in a once-rural area 30 miles west of St. Louis.

After admitting that I’m not a scientific expert, I pointed out the two seemingly-conflicting conclusions that appear in the report’s “Updated Analysis” section:

Based on updated data from the 5-zip code area, the total number of leukemia deaths and the total number of leukemia deaths in those age 65 and older appears to be significantly higher than expected (Table 4 updated) but the actual leukemia death rates in the 5-zip code area were not significantly different from the statewide leukemia death rates (Table B).

and

Based on this analysis, we have concluded that there is no increased environmental risk of developing leukemia in the five ZIP-code area during 1996-2004 over that of the entire state.

In addition, I told her agency officials’ refusal to answer simple questions about the report and their failure to make the report’s existence known to the public — especially to people living within the five zip codes targeted by the report — raised red flags in my mind and prompted me to want to learn more.

I also shared some of the feedback I had received from readers and made sure she knew that I could not confirm the accuracy of some of the tips I received without much more investigation.

Bernhard said she’s working on the story about which her report(s) should begin hitting as early as next week.

Worth noting is the fact that I was also contacted Jan. 26 by KMOV-TV‘s Brian Feldman.  Though he expressed interest in the story, I’ve found no evidence to date that the local CBS affiliate’s reporter has pursued it.

Also worth noting:  Near the end of my Jan. 23 story, I wrote that , “Though I could find no evidence of any mass tort lawsuits being filed by residents living near the Weldon Spring Site, the same source tells me a group of lawyers is studying that costly possibility.”  Today, however, I can report that another group of lawyers is holding two “Town Hall Meetings” Feb. 9, 1 p.m. and 6 p.m., at the Renaissance St. Louis Airport Hotel.

The online flyer about the event — found on the Facebook page, Coldwater Creek – Just the facts Please — mentions Florissant, Hazelwood and a half-dozen other communities north of St. Louis, but makes no mention of any St. Charles County communities.  Still, I’m willing to bet those lawyers won’t turn anyone away from their “rainmaking” sessions.

Talk Radio Alert: ‘The Dana Show’ Friday Afternoon

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I’ll be making a guest appearance Friday afternoon on The Dana Show on FM NewsTalk 97.1.

During the show’s last half hour, starting around 3:30 p.m. Central, host Dana Loesch and I will discuss an exclusive article I published Monday about a new Weldon Spring Cancer Report I obtained from the Missouri Department of Health & Senior Services Dec. 29 at 5:04 p.m.

Among the things, we’ll discuss:

(1) How my search for answers about the report turned into an uphill battle; and

(2) The fact that the state health agency has yet to provide any kind of public notice or issue any news release about its report on leukemia and leukemia death rates among people living in five zip codes near the site 30 miles west of St. Louis.

It’s unforgivable for MDHSS to withhold information from people living near the site, known as the Weldon Spring Site, especially when one considers the site’s history which landed it on the EPA’s National Priorities List for cleanup in 1987 and prompted the construction of a 75-foot-tall, 42-acre disposal cell (a.k.a., “rock pile”) to hold hazardous materials in 2001.

Be sure to tune in!

FOLLOW-UP:  As soon as a podcast is available, I’ll post a link to it here.  Go to “The Dana Show” page and select the podcast labeled “1-27-12 Bob McCarty.”