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Health report on Bridgeton landfill fuels anger, questions from residents

Health report on Bridgeton landfill fuels anger, questions from residents


BRIDGETON • People who live and work near a burning landfill lashed out at state health officials Monday night at a meeting to discuss a report about the risks of breathing fumes from the site.

The report on the Bridgeton Landfill, released last September by the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, does not adequately address residents’ concerns that the site is contributing to family members’ cancers, birth defects and other chronic health conditions, according to some speakers at the meeting held at the Bridgeton Banquet Center on Natural Bridge Road.

Exposure to fumes from the landfill may have caused breathing problems, headache, nausea or fatigue among residents and nearby workers, according to the report based on air monitoring data from 2013 to 2016.

“It’s three years old now, people need more current information,” said former Bridgeton city councilwoman Linda Eaker, who called the meeting “unfulfilling.”

The report says that there is no increased risk of cancer or other chronic diseases from breathing air around the landfill. The sulfurous fumes may aggravate asthma or other breathing problems, and people should stay inside as much as possible when the odors are offensive, state health officials have long advised.

Tonya Mason, a longtime resident of the neighboring Spanish Village subdivision, said she is “sick and tired” of being told to stay inside.

“You’re telling us don’t enjoy your life, but you can’t help us,” Mason said.

Jonathan Garoutte, administrator of the state agency’s environmental public health division, said he appreciated residents’ concerns and while he doesn’t know what it’s like to live in Spanish Village, he wanted to provide them with scientific data about the situation. Air monitoring around the site has shown a downward trend in foul odors and emissions, he said, while acknowledging the problem has not been eliminated.

“We understand that going inside doesn’t always fix it,” Garoutte told the crowd of about 200.

The shuttered landfill has been smoldering underground since at least 2010, followed by reports of foul odors from the site. Residents’ concerns are compounded by the adjoining West Lake Landfill, where Cold War-era nuclear waste was dumped in the 1970s. A 2015 federal health report showed no risks to residents from the radioactive materials at the site.

Residents have long been concerned the underground fire would reach the radioactive materials. A 2016 report from the St. Louis County health department acknowledged that higher reported rates of stress levels in the community could be linked to the decades-long saga of the toxic waste site.

The Environmental Protection Agency announced in September a plan for a partial excavation of the nuclear waste at West Lake Landfill. At the meeting, residents said they worry that the upcoming work could kick up additional toxins, and Garoutte said the state would be monitoring the cleanup project.

“The oversight of this landfill is not stopping just because we reached a milestone with this public health consultation,” he said.

Post-Dispatch coverage of the West Lake and Bridgeton landfills

A landfill is on fire in Bridgeton, and while such "smoldering events" do happen in landfills, this one is close to World War II-era radioactive waste. The Bridgeton Landfill abuts the West Lake Landfill. West Lake is where nuclear waste, the remnants of the Manhattan Project, was dumped decades ago. 

Here is a highlight of some of the Post-Dispatch coverage of the landfill, the radiation and community concerns.

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