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Bridgeton Landfill

A southern view of the Bridgeton Landfill where plastic membrane covers up hundreds of feet of garbage and various pipes direct leachate to the treatment plant, on Friday, Aug. 28, 2015 in Bridgeton. Photo by Huy Mach, hmach@post-dispatch.com

Fumes from the smoldering Bridgeton Landfill may have caused breathing problems in nearby residents in recent years, according to a report released Friday by the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.

The report covers air monitoring data collected near the landfill from 2013 to 2016 by state and federal agencies. An underground fire was detected at the landfill in 2010.

The smoldering released “sulfur-based compounds” into the air, which could have aggravated asthma or lung disease and caused difficulty breathing, headaches, nausea or fatigue, the report says.

Exposure to the landfill also could have increased stress among residents, the report found.

Remedial work at the landfill has reduced emissions to levels that are unlikely to harm most people, according to state health officials.

Residents have long been concerned the underground fire would reach World War II-era radioactive materials in the adjacent West Lake Landfill. The Environmental Protection Agency is expected to announce a final plan for cleanup of the nuclear waste by the end of the month.

In 2013, Chris Koster, then Missouri’s attorney general, sued landfill owner Republic Services among other companies for environmental violations at the landfill. The companies settled the suit in June by agreeing to pay $16 million to a community fund.

A St. Louis County assessment in 2016 found that people living in a two-mile radius of the smoldering landfill have slightly higher rates of asthma and chronic lung disease compared to people who live elsewhere in the county.

The differences were too small to conclude that living near the landfill is linked to the respiratory disorders, the county health department concluded. The survey did show evidence of high stress levels from living near the site.

The state health department’s analysis is a welcome acknowledgment of the health risks posed by the landfill, said activist Dawn Chapman, but more needs to be done to protect residents.

Even though emissions have gone down, someone needs to “have eyes on that site,” she said. “It’s just a very frustrating situation.”

Bryce Gray of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.

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Blythe Bernhard is a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.