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St. Louis Prepares for Possible Catastrophic Nuclear Event
by Barbara Minton
(The Best Years in Life) One of the largest cities in the Midwest is preparing for a nuclear event that could have catastrophic consequences for the entire country. An underground fire the size of a football field in a St. Louis area landfill that has been burning since 2010 is now within less than 1,000 feet of a huge stockpile of radioactive nuclear waste left over from before and during the Cold War. If the two finally collide, the result may be an explosion producing a radioactive plume that could rival Chernobyl’s. There is no immediate solution on the horizon.
Although the fire in the Bridgeton landfill, operated by Republic Services, has been burning ever closer to the stockpile for the past five years, it was only a year ago that authorities claim they had developed an evacuation plan for the metropolis. The possible catastrophe and the “worst-case” plan were not made public until this week, when a St. Louis radio station obtained a copy of the plan. Authorities are doing their best to downplay the problem, and so far there has been little national news coverage. In other words, it appears there is a news blackout regarding this threat to millions of people.
Republic Services has also downplayed the danger, pointing out that interceptor wells, underground structures that capture below-surface gasses, are in place to act as a partition between the fire and the nuclear waste. However there has been a report that the fire has already managed to get around two of these chambers.
How such a mess got created
Although there is no official declaration about how the fires got started, coal mining has been prevalent in the area for many years, and there may be coal mines burning beneath the contents of the landfill. People living closest to the fire have complained for years about the terrible odor it produces.
Also owned by Republic Services is the West Lake landfill which is adjacent to the Bridgton landfill. West Lake was blasted out of a quarry in the middle of the last century, and filled with radioactive garbage from the big name corporations in St. Louis that included Monsanto. In 1973, Mallinckrodt Chemical Company illegally dumped radioactive waste from uranium processing on the West Lake grounds, further contaminating the site and its surrounding areas. Included in their radioactive waste was material dating back to the Manhattan Project, which in 1940 created the first atomic bomb. St. Louis was the scene of the project, and the first place uranium was processed.
In 1990, West Lake was designated as a superfund site, which is any U.S. land that has been contaminated by hazardous waste and identified by the EPA as a candidate for cleanup because it poses a risk to human health and/or the environment. Such sites are placed on the National Priorities List. However, after the passing of nearly 25 years, nothing has been done to remediate the West Lake landfill.
The Mallinckrodt waste which came in dump trucks, some of it loose and some in barrels, was allowed to remain right at the headwaters of Coldwater Creek, a creek very close to West Lake that ran for eight miles through an adjacent bedroom community. The waste was not covered and every time there was rain it ran into the creek where the neighborhood children played. Residents of the community didn’t have a clue because anything involving radioactive waste was veiled in secrecy. As adults, many of these people developed unusual and rare cancers as a result of their proximity to Coldwater Creek.
Why hasn’t this site been cleaned up?
“You’re looking at half a million dollars just at West Lake alone”, says Dawn Chapman, leader of the organization Just Moms STL. “The department of energy deliberately past it over to superfund and made the recommendation because under superfund there are other responsible parties. That’s how the superfund program works. So in a sense, the federal government would not be solely responsible for West Lake. They would end up having to split the check two or three different ways.”
There are about 9 tons of this radioactive material that need to be dealt with. The problem is that it’s mixed into 39 tons of soil. That extends the scope of the cleanup immensely.
But Chapman says, “The federal government makes a lot money off nuclear weapons, and frankly this site is not as expensive as some of the other sites, and that 39 tons of soil you’re talking about is horribly contaminated”
In the long run it would be less expensive to clean up West Lake now, before the fire reaches the radioactive material, than it would be to let it happen and have to decontaminate the entire metro area, or even more. One wonders what they are waiting for.
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