Residents Get Antsy as Landfill Fire Burns Near Nuclear Waste

Conflicting reports add to confusion near St. Louis
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 3, 2015 1:25 PM CST
Residents Get Antsy as Landfill Fire Burns Near Nuclear Waste
In this March 13, 2012 photo, a radiation warning sign hangs on a fence at the West Lake landfill in Bridgeton, Mo.   (Laurie Skrivan/St. Louis Post-Dispatch via AP)

Dawn Chapman compares an underground fire at a landfill outside St. Louis to a train whose brakes have failed: In order to prevent a disaster, "you either have to stop that train or you have to clear the tracks," she says, per NPR. The reason for her analogy? The fire at Bridgeton Landfill is currently about 1,000 feet from where 9,000 tons of radioactive waste was dumped in the adjacent West Lake Landfill in the early 1970s. There's no guarantee it won't reach the waste, and some fear that would send radioactive smoke over communities. (The county even has a plan in place in case that happens.) Officials say there's no practical way to put out the fire, so Chapman argues that the focus should be on "getting that radioactive waste out of the way and removing the people that live right around it." But not everyone agrees with her.

The EPA, which oversees the radioactive waste, says "there might be some increased releases of radon into the atmosphere that would dissipate out" if the fire ever reached the waste, but adds there is "no imminent threat" of that happening. However, residents are understandably worried, having been deluged with conflicting accounts from various governmental agencies. State consultants, for example, say the fire is spreading and could theoretically reach the waste within months, notes NPR. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that about 20 families plan to move soon because of the problem, based on a questionnaire in the community. Attorney General Chris Koster says the EPA has "tried to avoid dealing with this in a deliberate way," though the agency has promised to contain the fire by the end of 2016, per Quartz. (More St. Louis stories.)

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