West Lake Landfill in Bridgeton, Missouri, is home to some 48,000 tons of radioactive waste, illegally dumped there in 1973, residue from the development of the atomic bomb during World War II and the Cold War.
West Lake is a terrible place to house radioactive waste.
- West Lake was never designed to contain radioactive waste. The landfill has no lining to keep the toxins from leaking into the soil and groundwater. Tests indicate that some of the radioactive waste has already seeped into the groundwater.
- It lies in the floodplain of the Missouri River, upstream from the intake valves for the drinking water supply for the entire St. Louis metropolitan region. Flooding can also allow the nuclear wastes to migrate to new areas, both inside and outside the landfill.
- West Lake is in a region very susceptible to tornadoes, 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.
In 2008 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 7 made the decision to cap the landfill and leave the radioactive wastes in place. Ever since, residents have advocated for the complete removal of the radioactive wastes through the Army Corps of Engineers Formerly Utilized Sites Remedial Action Program (FUSRAP), an action that would require federal lawmakers to transfer jurisdiction for West Lake from the EPA to the Corps. The U.S. Senate passed such legislation—S-2306—in 2015; the corresponding bill in the U.S. House (HR-4100) remains stalled in committee.
The Franciscan Sisters of Mary have joined with the Missouri Coalition for the Environment, Just Moms STL, and other local community organizations to advocate for a just resolution of this issue. Besides meeting with local, state, and federal officials and legislators and supporting legislation to transfer jurisdiction for the landfill from the Environmental Protection Agency to FUSRAP, since 2013 the FSM have held twice-monthly prayer vigils to pray for healing and to raise awareness about the issue within the St. Louis metropolitan area.