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St. Louis area residents sue over radioactive material storage sites

St. Louis area residents sue over radioactive material storage sites

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Radioactive sign at West Lake landfill in Bridegton- tight

Exterior shot showing a section of the West Lake Landfill Tuesday March 13, 2012, in Bridgeton. Photo by Laurie Skrivan, lskrivan@post-dispatch.com

Updated at 4:58 p.m.

A business owner in Bridgeton and a homeowner in St. Ann have filed lawsuits seeking compensation for damages they say were caused by the negligent handling of radioactive waste at West Lake Landfill and at storage sites along Coldwater Creek in north St. Louis County.

The two lawsuits, which both seek class action status, were filed Tuesday in St. Louis County Circuit Court.

Among defendants named in the lawsuits are Republic Services, Exelon Corp., Cotter Corp. and the St. Louis Airport Authority.

"Defendants treated these hazardous, toxic, carcinogenic, radioactive wastes with about the same level of care that a reasonable person might give to common household garbage, dumping it without authority from the State of Missouri and in violation of law," the lawsuits contend.

The suits do not state an amount being sought by the plaintiffs.

John C. Kitchin Jr., owner of North West Auto Body Company, at 12990 St. Charles Rock Road, is lead plaintiff in the West Lake-related lawsuit. Kitchin acquired his property, next to the landfill, in 1995 and learned it was contaminated in 2017, according to his lawsuit. The lawsuit seeks damages on behalf of all property owners within an 11-square-mile area in the vicinity of West Lake Landfill, including Bridgeton and Earth City.

St. Ann resident Tamia Banks is the lead plaintiff in the second lawsuit, which seeks damages on behalf of owners of property in the Coldwater Creek flood plain between St. Charles Rock and Old Halls Ferry roads. County records show Banks bought her home on Ashby Road in 2005; she learned this year that her property was contaminated with radioactive material, according to her lawsuit.  

In a statement, Bridgeton Landfill LLC, the Republic Services company that runs the landfill, called the lawsuit "without merit." 

"Federal and state regulatory agencies ... have all concluded, through years of study and true science, that the landfill poses no risk to people outside the landfill’s property," the company said.

Officials from other entities named as defendants did not respond to requests for comment.

The history of nuclear waste in the St. Louis area dates back to the U.S. atomic bomb program from World War II and spans an array of nuclear processing facilities, storage sites, material transfers and suspected leaks along the way.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has deemed some of the St. Louis-area places that were a part of that history "Superfund" sites, placing them among highly polluted areas that are a national priority for clean-up.

The West Lake site, originally used for agriculture, became a limestone quarry in 1939. But starting in the 1950s, portions of the area were used to dispose of municipal refuse, industrial wastes and construction debris, the EPA said.

In 1973, some 8,700 tons of leached radioactive barium sulfate from the Manhattan Project, the World War II-era atomic bomb-development program, were mixed with 38,000 tons of soil used to cover trash dumped at the site, according to the EPA.

In 1990, the landfill and neighboring waste-disposal facilities occupying a total of 200 acres were designated by the EPA as a single Superfund site. Earlier this month, the agency announced a long-awaited proposal to partially excavate and remove West Lake's radioactive contents.

The landfill, however, is not the only local contaminated area where federal cleanup efforts are focused.

Since the 1990s, the St. Louis District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has worked to remove around 1 million cubic yards of soil along Coldwater Creek, in north St. Louis County, where sediments are radioactively contaminated. The radioactivity traces its origins upstream, to the waste at nearby sites that the lawsuits allege was handled improperly.

"Until the 1970s, radioactive materials were stored in bulk, on the ground, open to the elements, and unattended at sites on and adjacent to Coldwater Creek," one of the suits states.

The lawsuits are the latest of many to claim area residents and businesses have been harmed by radioactive waste.

More than 140 federal lawsuits have been filed since 2012 on behalf of current and former north St. Louis County residents — or their heirs — who claim exposure to the waste caused cancers and deaths. Those lawsuits, which are pending, name Mallinckrodt, which processed uranium for the U.S. government, and Cotter as principal defendants.

Reuters and Bryce Gray of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.

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