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Surface Fire Erupts At Bridgeton Landfill, Is Unrelated To Underground Fire

Missouri Department of Natural Resources

A surface fire erupted and was quickly extinguished Sunday at the Bridgeton Landfill, which has been plagued by an underground fire for some time.

The two fires are unrelated, said the landfill’s parent owner, Republic Services, in a statement issued Sunday afternoon.

According to Republic, the surface fire occurred Sunday morning at the landfill’s southern border, near a drainage ditch. “The surface fire is believed to be the result of a break in an air-line which allowed oxygen into a small area under the liner,” the firm said. “It was quickly extinguished by the landfill’s 24/7 on-site team. "

Those involved in the effort included the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, the Pattonville Fire Department, and the Bridgeton Police Department.

By late Sunday, the only remaining evidence is some steam “emanating from the area where the surface fire burned part of the liner,” Republic said. The burned liner was being covered with dirt until it could be repaired.

The steam is expected to be visible “for the foreseeable future” as the hot gases mix with cold air. There also was damage to the plastic conveyance lines, causing the release of some leachate, which Republic says has been “captured and contained’’ for safe disposal.

A Republic spokesman emphasized that there had been no evidence of a fire Saturday night, and that landfill officials and first-responders were continuing to investigate how the fire occurred.

"As part of our investigation into the origin of the surface fire, we will conduct an after-action review of the entire incident to include notification of and coordination with first responders,” the spokesman said. “The EPA was on site at the time of the incident, and Pattonville Fire Department was early onto the scene, consistent with the response plan. We appreciate everyone’s coordination and prompt response this morning."

Bridgeton Landfill officials have been trying for years to stem an underground fire, which some environmentalists fear could reach radioactive material stored at the neighboring West Lake Landfill. Federal, state and landfill officials say that's unlikely to happen.  A firm hired by the EPA recently completed a report,obtained Friday by St. Louis Public Radio and the Beacon, which concluded that the underground fire posed no danger, even if it did reach the radioactive material.

Bridgeton Landfill also has touched off controversy over a persistent odor plaguing nearby residents. Landfill  executives believe the problem has been addressed by a new cap over the site.  The landfill no longer receives waste.

Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.