BRIDGETON • Pattonville fire officials are concerned about rising underground temperatures at a north St. Louis County landfill and an odor that’s generating complaints from people who live and work in the area.
Matt LaVanchy, assistant chief of the Pattonville Fire Department, said temperatures in one section of the inactive Bridgeton Sanitary Landfill have reached 190 degrees and a 40-foot section of ground has collapsed.
Noxious fumes that are bothering residents come from wells drilled in the landfill to deal with the buildup of heat, he said.
While problems at the landfill, just north of Lambert-St. Louis International Airport, have worsened recently, they are not new.
Problems began in January 2011, when the Missouri Department of Natural Resources reported that data from monitoring equipment at the site indicated high levels of carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide and low levels of methane and oxygen — conditions that indicated a subsurface fire.
DNR said at the time that the fire was believed to be located deep within the south central portion of the landfill, 100 to 150 feet below the surface, and posed no threat to public health.
The agency also said the fire wasn’t threatening the nearby West Lake Landfill Superfund site, where Cold War-era radioactive waste is buried.
A DNR spokeswoman wasn’t available Monday to answer questions about the cause of the elevated carbon monoxide readings.
Susan David, a spokeswoman for Phoenix-based Republic Services, which runs the landfill, said the company is working to upgrade the gas management system at the landfill because the waste is decomposing faster than normal. The construction work has resulted in more odor than usual. Last weekend, she said, a gas pipe was damaged, adding to the odor.
As for the collapsed of part of the landfill, she said, “We aren’t seeing anything alarming. All landfills settle as they decompose.”
Chris Whitley, an Environmental Protection Agency spokesman, said the agency was aware of the situation but that slow-burning underground fires aren’t uncommon and there was no threat to the federal Superfund site.
LaVanchy, a member of St. Louis County’s hazardous materials response team, said he’s spoken with Republic Services and reviewed the company’s plans for addressing the heat buildup. The company has told him there’s no fire at the landfill, but rather a condition known as “subsurface oxidation.”
“We’ve got a lot of questions,” he said. “It’s just a matter of trying to understand what’s really going on, what potentially could happen and how to manage that.”
Among the concerns, LaVanchy said, is what happens if the temperature continues to rise, or the landfill is exposed to oxygen. He’s also worried what happens if the problem migrates to the northeast, toward the radioactive waste.
“We could potentially have a very serious situation,” he said.