The Army Corps of Engineers will help build an isolation barrier between an underground fire at the Bridgeton landfill and radioactive materials in the adjacent West Lake Landfill, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
“The EPA intends soon to conclude an agreement with the United States Army Corps of Engineers to enlist Corps construction expertise for the isolation barrier to separate West Lake from the (subsurface smoldering event),” EPA region seven administrator Karl Brooks wrote in a letter Friday to Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster.
Construction on the barrier is expected to start within 90 days, Brooks said.
Koster urged the EPA this week to move quickly on the barrier. That move came one year after Koster sued the landfills’ owner Republic Services, alleging violations of environmental laws. Republic’s efforts to keep the fire from spreading “do not address the entire problem” because additional radioactive material has been discovered closer to the fire, Koster said.
The Cold War-era nuclear waste was dumped illegally about 40 years ago and was previously thought to be contained in West Lake. Early results from an EPA study show the materials were found beyond the original perimeter and in the north section of the Bridgeton landfill. The underground fire is in the south section.
Environmental groups and nearby residents have long called for the Army Corps of Engineers to take over the cleanup of the Superfund site. The Corps has worked on other nuclear waste cleanup projects around Lambert-St. Louis International Airport and Coldwater Creek. Recently, several organizations, including St. Louis County, the cities of Bridgeton and Maryland Heights and the Pattonville School District have supported such a move. Missouri’s congressional delegation also called on the EPA to work with the Corps on West Lake.
“I understand there’s a strong desire for action and that action is moving forward very quickly,” Brooks said, adding that the EPA will retain authority over the site through its Superfund program. “This is not a transfer to the Corps. This is an assist to EPA.”
A spokesman for Republic Services said the company is committed to the construction of the barrier when the regulatory authorities approve such a plan.
“The safety of both sites has always been our highest priority,” said Richard Callow.