Work on barrier at Bridgeton landfill delayed, and lawmakers are seeking answers

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BRIDGETON, Missouri — Construction of a barrier aimed at preventing underground smoldering from reaching buried nuclear waste at a suburban St. Louis landfill has been delayed, and lawmakers want to know why.

Cold War-era nuclear waste is buried at West Lake Landfill in Bridgeton, not far from the adjacent Bridgeton Landfill, where underground smoldering is occurring. The owner of the site, Republic Services, is paying for construction of a barrier to make sure the smoldering and the nuclear waste don't meet.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch ( ) reports that a recent letter of concern to the Environmental Protection Agency was signed by U.S. Sens. Roy Blunt and Claire McCaskill, along with U.S. Reps. William Lacy Clay and Ann Wagner.

"We remain concerned by the lack of a clear timeline for completion of the proposed isolation barrier," the lawmakers wrote.

EPA officials said in March that construction would start by the end of June. A spokesman said EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers are working together on a plan for the barrier.

Republic Services is committed to fast construction once regulatory agencies agree on a plan, a spokesman said.

The nuclear waste was dumped illegally at the site about 40 years ago. Originally thought to be contained in West Lake Landfill, preliminary results of an EPA survey released this year showed radioactive materials potentially reaching into the north section of Bridgeton landfill.

The underground smoldering is in the south section of the landfill. It has been occurring for more than three years, creating an odor that Republic Services is spending millions of dollars to reduce.

Interceptor wells are already in place to prevent the smoldering from reaching the nuclear waste, but the barrier would add even more assurance that the two never meet.

If they did, heat from any fire at the nuclear site could spark an explosion in methane pockets or buried gas cylinders, throwing radioactive particles into the air, Washington University earth and planetary science professor Bob Criss has said. Criss, who has studied environmental concerns at the landfill, said the smolder could also create "subsurface voids" that might expose nuclear waste to wind and rain.

Information from: St. Louis Post-Dispatch,

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