Four school districts near the radioactive West Lake Landfill in Bridgeton sent letters to parents Monday explaining their plans for a potential emergency at the site.
“We remain frustrated by the situation at the landfill,” wrote Mike Fulton, superintendent of the Pattonville School District. “This impacts not only our community, but the entire St. Louis region.”
The letters from Pattonville, Orchard Farm, St. Charles and Francis Howell districts used similar language to describe what will happen if toxic fumes are released into the community. Students will either shelter in place at their schools or will be evacuated as directed by emergency responders.
“We prepare our kids for tornadoes, fire drills, intruder alerts, but how do you prepare them for something like this?” asked Rhonda Marsala, who has a son at Pattonville High School in Maryland Heights and a daughter at Holman Middle School in St. Ann. “The fact that these young children know about it, and they have anxiety over it, it’s very unfair to them.”
An underground fire at the Bridgeton Landfill is moving toward radioactive waste in the adjacent West Lake landfill, according to Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster, who has sued the landfills’ owner Republic Services for environmental violations. Reports released by Koster last month also showed that radioactive waste has contaminated trees and groundwater outside the perimeter of the landfill, where World War II-ear uranium byproducts were dumped illegally in the 1970s.
But analysts with Republic Services show the company’s gas wells aimed at keeping the smoldering heat from reaching the radioactive waste have been successful. The Environmental Protection Agency, which oversees West Lake Landfill as a toxic Superfund site, has also made repeated assurances that the site poses no threat to local residents and workers.
The 63043 ZIP code, which includes Rose Acres Elementary School and Pattonville High, has a higher-than-average rate of brain and nervous system cancers among children 17 and younger, according to a 2014 state health report. The schools are less than two miles from the West Lake Landfill. Soil testing for radiation at the schools in the summer of 2014 did not turn up any levels of concern.
Samantha Colbert has a fourth-grader in the Orchard Farm School District in St. Charles County, which sent a letter Monday stating parts of the district are about four miles from the landfill.
“The seriousness took me by surprise,” Colbert said. “We think we’re north of everything, but then to start reading and realize even though you’re north you’re still in immediate risk if something like this were to happen.”
A community meeting on the landfill situation will be held at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at John Calvin Presbyterian Church in Bridgeton, 12567 Natural Bridge Road.