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Federal report shows no radiation risk to communities around the West Lake Landfill

This radiation warning sign is one of many posted on the chain link fence surrounding part of the West Lake Landfill in Bridgeton, Mo.
File photo | Sarah Skiold-Hanlin | St. Louis Public Radio
This radiation warning sign is one of many posted on the chain link fence surrounding part of the West Lake Landfill in Bridgeton, Mo.

A federal report shows no off-site human health risk from radioactive waste at the West Lake Landfill.

At the request of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, or ATSDR, reviewed existing data on groundwater, air, and soil contamination at and around the landfill in Bridgeton.

Overall, the assessment found no radiation risk to surrounding communities, but did caution that workers at the landfill need to be protected from inhaling radioactive dust and radon gas.

Here are some more details about the ATSDR's conclusions:

  • Groundwater: The ATSDR acknowledged a 2014 U.S. Geological Survey report that showed elevated levels of radium in some groundwater wells at the West Lake Landfill. But it concluded that there was no risk to human health, because the direction of groundwater flow is toward the northwest, away from residential areas, and the groundwater is not being used for drinking water.
  • Soil: The ATSDR reviewed data on soil samples collected along the haul roads bordering the landfill and found no evidence of radioactive contamination.
  • Air: The ATSDR found outdoor radon levels higher than "typical regional and national background levels," but concluded that there is no risk to people's health, because the levels are "well below radon concentrations associated with elevated lung cancer risks." The report also said there is no evidence that radon produced at the landfill will move into residential areas. As a general practice, the U.S. Surgeon General and the EPA recommend that all homes nationwide be tested for radon.
  • Landfill workers: The ATSDR concluded that if the surface of the soil at the West Lake Landfill is disturbed, radioactive dust particles could be released into the atmosphere and potentially inhaled by workers, harming their health and possibly leading to lung cancer. The report cautioned that landfill workers could also be exposed to unhealthy levels of radon gas, a leading cause of lung cancer. The agency recommended monitoring the landfill and surrounding areas for radon and taking measures to control dust.

EPA spokesperson Curtis Carey said the bottom line is the public should feel reassured that there is no evidence of radioactive material moving off of the West Lake Landfill. “The EPA continues to monitor that site, along with [the Missouri Department of Natural Resources] at the Bridgeton site," Carey said. "We will know if there’s any indication that there’s a change in situation there, and we’ll let the public know through local emergency managers.”
Carey added that the EPA has reviewed the Missouri Attorney General’s reports and "completely disagrees" with their conclusions.

Follow Véronique LaCapra on Twitter@KWMUScience