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Family evacuation drill in case of West Lake Landfill radioactive plume emergency

Karen Meadows (center) walks back to her van to help her smaller kids out of their car seats as the older children head back in the house after a surprise evacuation drill she ran with her children from their home in St. Charles County on Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2015. Meadows blew an airhorn in the kitchen at the house at 9 a.m. to start the drill and then she and her seven children scrambled out the door like they would in the event they need to evacuate their home if a radioactive plume of smoke is released from the West Lake Landfill in Bridgeton. Photo By David Carson, dcarson@post-dispatch.com

Adding to conflicting information about the smoldering Bridgeton Landfill and the radioactive West Lake Landfill, new reports filed in court show the sites are safe and under control.

The 15 reports were submitted Friday by the landfills’ owner Republic Services as part of an ongoing lawsuit against the company by Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster for various environmental violations. The case is expected to go to trial next year.

Radioactive materials in the soil of West Lake Landfill do not pose any immediate or short-term health risks to workers or neighbors, wrote Paul Rosasco of Colorado-based Engineering Management Support. The nuclear waste, byproducts of uranium processing for the atomic bomb, was dumped in the landfill in the 1970s.

Koster released his own expert reports last month that showed the fire in the Bridgeton dump is getting closer to the radioactive waste in the adjacent West Lake Landfill, and that radioactive materials had migrated off-site and contaminated nearby trees and groundwater. Koster’s reports spurred St. Louis County and several school districts to release emergency evacuation plans, which in turn caused anxiety among parents and residents.

Rosasco’s report says the trees do not show radioactive measurements above what would be expected to occur naturally.

Another report filed Friday by Republic Services states that the landfill is not putting out significant amounts of hydrogen sulfide, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, gamma radiation or toxic vapors such as benzene into the nearby area. The analysis is based on air-monitoring data provided by the state Department of Natural Resources. Benzene measurements in the air at the landfill have decreased from 2012 to the beginning of this year, according to the report.

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The Environmental Protection Agency has also said there is no public health risk from the landfills. This week, an agency official said a plan to separate the two landfills with some type of fire break would be announced by the end of the year. The EPA oversees West Lake Landfill as a toxic Superfund site.

Residents of Bridgeton, Maryland Heights and other nearby areas have grown increasingly frustrated with the EPA’s slow pace toward cleanup at West Lake. A 2008 decision from the agency to cap the landfill is being revised, with a new plan expected by the end of 2016.

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