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Republic Services casts doubt on landfill fire expert's report

This photo taken in February 2015 of the Bridgeton Landfill's south quarry shows the plastic cap and several gas extraction wells.
File Photo | Kae Petrin | St. Louis Public Radio
Republic Services says the plastic cap, gas extraction wells, and other measures taken to contain the reaction in the south quarry will also likely prolong its life, possibly for another five years.

Bridgeton and West Lake Landfill owner Republic Services is calling into question the validity of one of the reports released last month by Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster.

A deposition given this Wednesday and Thursday by the report's lead author seems to raise doubts about whether or not the underground fire at the Bridgeton Landfill is really moving toward nearby radioactive waste.

In his Sept. 2 report for the Attorney General, landfill fire consultant Tony Sperling said the underground reaction had reached the narrow neck of the Bridgeton landfill and was moving north in the direction of radioactive waste in the adjacent West Lake Landfill. He also said that high temperatures from the reaction could conceivably reach the waste in 3 to 6 months, a statement which has alarmed many area residents.

Here are the relevant paragraphs, from p.111 of Sperling's report:

But according to a rough draft of the transcript of Sperling's Thursday deposition with an attorney for Republic Services posted Friday on the company's Bridgeton Landfill website, Sperling said he has “not examined the information at the neck in the level of detail to determine if there is movement.” That statement seems to contradict the one in his report, which said the reaction had definitively "passed beyond" both lines of gas interceptor wells in the neck, and was "moving closer to the North Quarry."

In his deposition, Sperling also clarified that what is happening at the landfill is a chemical reaction, not a fire, and confirmed that the reaction is confined to the landfill’s south quarry.

Here some relevant excerpts, from p.187 of that deposition:

Sperling Oct. 15 deposition, draft transcript, p.187.
Sperling Oct. 15 deposition, draft transcript, p.187.

Sperling Oct. 15 deposition, draft transcript, p.187.
Sperling Oct. 15 deposition, draft transcript, p.187.

On the first day of his deposition, after repeated questioning by Republic's attorney, Sperling seemed to express regret about the way his worst-case scenario estimate — that the reaction could reach the radioactive waste in as little as 3 to 6 months — has been interpreted by some members of the public:

Sperling Oct. 14 deposition, draft transcript, p.210.
Sperling Oct. 14 deposition, draft transcript, p.210.

Although St. Louis Public Radio spoke with Tony Sperling on Friday about his deposition, he declined to comment about it on the record for this report.

A spokesperson for Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster provided the following statement:

"The litigation process involves extensive back-and-forth between witnesses and lawyers, and here Republic’s legal team has worked hard to distract the public from the real issue – the Bridgeton landfill has been burning for years, and no amount of cross-examination can clear the stench of smoldering plastic from the community.  We look forward to taking this case to a jury at trial."

The Attorney General's case against Republic Services was recently moved to federal court, at the company's request. It is scheduled to start trial on Mar. 7, 2016.

Follow Véronique LaCapra on Twitter@KWMUScience