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.