West Lake Landfill in Bridgeton, Missouri, houses some 8,700 tons of radioactive waste illegally dumped there in 1973, residue from the Manhattan Project, a program to develop nuclear bombs during World War II and the Cold War. Mixed with about 38,000 tons of soil, the waste was used to cover the trash dumped daily.
The landfill became a concern for the Franciscan Sisters of Mary in 2012, having moved our elder and infirm sisters and our congregational offices to Bridgeton.
The Threat of Radioactive Poisoning
The West Lake Landfill is a terrible place to house radioactive waste.
- West Lake was never designed to contain radioactive waste. The landfill has no lining to keep toxins from leaching into the soil and groundwater. Tests indicate that some radioactive waste has already seeped into the groundwater.
- West Lake Landfill lies in the Missouri River floodplain, upstream from the intake valves for the drinking water supply for the entire St. Louis metropolitan region.
- Flooding can also allow nuclear waste to migrate to new areas, both inside and outside the landfill.
- The Bridgeton area is very susceptible to tornados, earthquakes, and fires—any of which could release radioactive dust or smoke into the air.
- A subsurface fire smoldering in the adjoining Bridgeton Landfill is moving steadily toward the radioactive wastes in the West Lake Landfill. No one knows for certain what will happen when the fire reaches the radioactive wastes, but a potential disaster looms. Beginning in 2010, the widespread noxious fumes from the underground fire have alerted many to the dangers lurking in the adjoining landfills.
Options for Containment
The site was declared a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Superfund site in 1990, but not much occurred until 2008 when the EPA Region 7 made the decision to cap the landfill and leave the radioactive wastes in place. Ever since, residents have protested the decision, advocating for the complete removal and transfer of the radioactive waste to a storage location specifically designed for containment of radioactive materials, and for voluntary buyouts of the properties of homeowners living closest to the landfills.
On February 1, 2018, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt released the proposed remedy for West Lake. Under this plan, the EPA would remove about 70 percent of the radioactive waste and install a permanent cap over the landfill.
The Franciscan Sisters of Mary have joined with the Missouri Coalition for the Environment, JustMomsSTL, and other local community organizations to urge complete excavation of all radioactive waste from the landfill and storage of the toxic materials in a facility specifically designed to handle nuclear waste. We are also urging the buyout of properties close to the landfill.
We are grateful for EPA’s resolution to clean up the site, but we remain hopeful that EPA will choose to clean up 100% of the radioactive material after further testing of nearby groundwater.
What to Do?
Besides meeting with local, state, and federal officials and legislators, since 2013, the FSM have held prayer vigils on the second and fourth Wednesdays of each month to pray for healing and to raise awareness of the issues.
Come join our prayer vigils; contact us for location and specific information. For up-to-date information about what is happening with the West Lake Landfill and how you can get involved, check out the Missouri Coalition for the Environment website.