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EPA detects radioactive contamination on edge of Bridgeton Landfill

An underground fire has been smoldering in the Bridgeton Landfill for five years, about 1,000 feet away from tons of nuclear waste in the adjacent West Lake Landfill.
Véronique LaCapra | St. Louis Public Radio
A file photo of the Bridgeton Landfill, which sits adjacent to the West Lake Landfill.

Radioactive contamination at the West Lake Landfill has been detected farther south than previously reported, according to data released Thursday by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The new map shows contamination on the northern edge of the Bridgeton Landfill, a few hundred feet away from an underground smoldering fire that has existed since at least 2010. The contaminated soil, left over from the Manhattan Project, is about 70 to 80 feet underground in the newly discovered area, officials said.

"There’s still no significant health risk posed by the radiological waste. The health risk for both onsite workers and folks offsite hasn’t changed,” EPA project manager Brad Vann said on a conference call with reporters. 

The findings are part of an extensive, long-awaited survey of contamination at the West Lake Landfill Superfund site. The data will help the EPA determine where to build an isolation barrier between the waste and the underground fire, which is burning in the Bridgeton Landfill’s southern quarry.

"The entire document is not available yet, simply because we haven't completed all of our quality assurance reviews," Vann said. "We want to make sure the information we put out is accurate, correct and meets our scientific standards as far as EPA is concerned." 

At all Superfund sites, the EPA oversees the companies tasked with paying for and cleaning up all the contamination, known as "potentially responsible parties." Richard Callow, a spokesperson for the landfill's owner, Republic Services, said the findings were "not news to us or to EPA. Shouldn't be news to you."

"Nobody thought the fence delineated anything other than what somebody guessed 10 years ago," Callow wrote. 

Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster, who just two weeks ago chided the EPA’s Region 7 for failing to deliver information about the West Lake Landfill cleanup in a timely manner, released the following statement:

"Today’s report confirms that EPA has never had a clear picture of the extent of contamination at the West Lake landfill, and it is deeply concerning that it took EPA so long to figure that out. It is long past time for the federal government to transfer responsibility of the site to the Army Corps for swift and certain remedial action."

A bill transferring responsibility to the Corps has passed the U.S. Senate, but has not gotten through a House committee in nearly two months.

Koster is also the most prominent Democratic candidate for Missouri governor.

Follow Durrie on Twitter:@durrieB