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State Senate passes bill to buy homes near West Lake Landfill

A cautionary sign at a fence around the West Lake Landfill Superfund site, which contains World War II-era nuclear waste.
File photo | Véronique LaCapra | St. Louis Public Radio
A cautionary sign at a fence around the West Lake Landfill Superfund site, which contains World War II-era nuclear waste.

A bill to create a buyout program for homes near the West Lake Landfill Superfund site in Bridgeton has been overwhelmingly approved by the state Senate. 

Under the proposal, residents of the Spanish Village subdivision near the site could apply to sell their homes to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. As many as 91 families could have the option to move away from the World War II-era radioactive contamination at the West Lake Landfill, which sits about 600 feet from the underground smoldering fire at the Bridgeton Landfill. Many residents have expressed concern about the potential health risks of living there.

"Passing this bill is a big message to the Environmental Protection Agency to either do their job or let us do what we need to do for our own citizens," said state Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, the bill's sponsor. 

The proposal passed the Senate 30 to 3. State. Sens. Will Kraus, R-Lee's Summit; Ron Richard, R-Joplin; and David Sater, R-Cassville were voted against the measure. A previous version of the bill was struck down last year by state legislators. 

"This is a small victory in pursuit of getting relief for people living closest to the landfill," said Ed Smith, policy director at the Missouri Coalition for the Environment. The organization has fought to give residents the option to have their homes bought out for several years.

For the bill to become law, it must be heard in a public hearing before a House committee and pass there before the full House can vote on it.

The bill would set a $12.5 million cap on buyouts. Landfill owner Republic Services, which has spent more than $180 million on infrastructure to subdue the underground fire, has repeatedly emphasized that the site is in a "managed state" and that the contamination and the subsurface reaction pose little risk to the community. 

"Any time science succumbs to fear, the people lose," said Russ Knocke, Republic Services' vice president of communications and public affairs. "This was a bad day for taxpayers." 

The Environmental Protection Agency planned to announce whether it would cap, remove or partially remove the radioactive waste at the West Lake Landfill by the end of 2016, but missed its deadline, due to delays in getting adequate data from parties responsible for the site. 

"Right now, EPA continues to work towards a final remedy proposal at the West Lake Landfill," EPA spokesperson Ben Washburn said.

The EPA is also expected to soon release results of their tests for possible radioactive contamination on residential properties near the landfill.

Follow Eli Chen on Twitter: @StoriesByEli

Eli is the science and environment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.