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Bridgeton Landfill

Inside the Bridegton landfill complex, a fence bars access to the West Lake Landfill, where radioactive material was illegally dumped more than 40 years ago. photo by Jacob Barker

BRIDGETON • St. Louis County’s new health director made it clear that his department would be more involved in the issues stemming from the smoldering landfill here, promising first a new survey of residents’ health conditions.

The announcement was a change from the limited involvement the health department under former County Executive Charlie Dooley had with the burning Bridgeton landfill and its potential health impacts. But County Executive Steve Stenger’s new health chief, Faisal Khan, signaled a new interest in the issue from both Stenger and his department.

“What changed in the last two, three months in St. Louis County?” Khan asked the crowd of about 100 gathered in the Operating Engineers Local 513 meeting hall. “Political will. … There was a lack of political will in Clayton. And I’m here to tell you that has changed completely.”

The health department is already designing a study with the help of researchers at Washington University and St. Louis University, he said.

Though some details could change, he said, the early plan is to survey people living within two miles of the Bridgeton Landfill for health effects. The landfill has been smoldering for four years, releasing odors and unhealthy gases.

Khan hopes to complete a study within six months. Stenger is receiving weekly briefings on the progress and wants it completed quickly, he said.

The survey will focus on three ailments related to air pollution: asthma, respiratory illnesses and allergies.

Khan said his department was committed to designing a study that would withstand careful scrutiny.

That will be recognized by peer researchers and published in professional journals, he said, which “puts pressure on our federal partners to speed up their time table for cleanup.”

The EPA regulates the adjacent West Lake landfill, which is contaminated with radioactive waste. Many nearby residents are worried the fire could spread to the contaminated areas and worsen the conditions.

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The landfill owner, though, is adamant that the fire is under control. The company has spent more than $100 million building a system to attempt to control odors and hazardous liquids and gases being emitted from the site.

Many residents cheered the health department’s involvement.

“Anybody that gets involved with this, I’ll be happy,” said nearby resident Fe Richards. “They have to hear us.”

Many were obviously still frustrated, however.

“The study by itself won’t fix it,” said Candace Kaucher, who lives adjacent to the landfill.

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