Local community organization looks for the ‘P’ in EPA
By: Bri Heaney
The byproduct of processed Uranium from the Manhattan Project remains in St. Louis. Just Moms, an organization dedicated to removing the waste and based in Bridgeton, Missouri, came to the sociology course Social Problems to explain their cause.
On Thursday, Feb. 9, Just Moms held a meeting at St. Louis Community College— Meramec about ongoing issues with a radioactive landfill in their community.
Bridgeton is a town in St. Louis County that has two landfills — the Bridgeton Landfill and West Lake Land ll. The latter of the two contains radioactive waste resulting from St. Louis’ role in the Manhattan Project. Less than 600 feet from that site sits Bridgeton Landfill, inside of which you will find an SSE (subterranean smoldering event), or in layman’s terms, an underground fire that some in the community believe has been burning since 2010.
“So we processed waste from the Manhattan Project, you would have thought that would have been Nevada and all the places Southwest, and Hanford, and the Savannah River, and Rocky Flats and all those horrible places, but believe it or not we started it here,” said Dawn Chapman, co-founder of Just Moms.
The authorities surrounding the landfill have provided no answers.
“I just wanted to point something out today. I was driving behind a truck today and it said ‘Keep back 500 feet’ and the gravity of that really hit me. That I’m supposed to keep a distance of 500 feet from a truck, yet we have a fire burning underground within 500 feet of radioactive debris,” a Bridgeton community member said at the town hall meeting held on Thursday, Feb. 16.
If the burning underground fire reaches the radioactive landfill, the results could be catastrophic not only for Bridgeton but for the entire St. Louis Metro area.
“Bridgeton Landfill is right across the street, it can be in many ways considered one landfill because it’s just that there is a road over top — underneath that road is a landfill,” said Thomas Foxworthy, a Meramec student who lives close to the land ll.
Chapman was told that there was a natural rock formation that would stop the fire from reaching the land ll. However, when Chapman went to investigate the rock formation that would stop the spread of the fire she was informed there was no such thing.
“There is no wall of rocks. The fire can just go right over to it,”
Foxworthy said. Evacuation plans have been implemented and students who take daily medication have been told to stockpile that medicine at their schools in case there is a radioactive emergency, said Chapman, while speaking to the Social Problems class at Meramec.
While the risk of a catastrophic event looms, long-term exposure to radioactivity brings up other risks. Before the radioactive waste was moved to West Lake in 1973, it was stored at a location in North Saint Louis that was close to a waterway called Coldwater Creek. Rare cancers including appendix and brain cancer became prominent in areas surrounding Coldwater Creek due to radiation from the improperly stored uranium 235.
Carl Chappell, a resident of Florissant which is one of the areas affected, lost a son in 2015 due to appendix cancer — one of 45 cases. To put that in perspective, according to the National Cancer Institute the number of cases that would be on par for the national average for the Coldwater creek area would be two to three cases.
“Coldwater Creek is so important because we can look at this exact same waste and look at what the effect has been,” Foxworthy said. “We have won lawsuits; we’ve found it in residences.”
Chapman said Just Moms is pushing for the Army Corps of Engineers to be put in charge and remove the significant influence over policy makers that the financial responsible party’s currently enjoy.
“While it is a EPA superfund site, the corps is the most qualified government agency to provide a permit and safe solution for the radioactive waste which is what Just Moms STL is calling for,” Chapman said.
Just Moms wants the site to be transferred through FUSRAP to the army corps. The EPA, however, is holding onto the site which Mark Matthieson, state representative for district 70, said is his biggest concern.
“I don’t know if their agency is benefiting financially for maintaining control of this or if something is being hidden, and I try not to be a conspiracy theorist of any kind but when one agency works this hard to protect their jurisdiction of something like this I start wondering what they are hiding,” Matthieson said.