ST. LOUIS — New reports raise troubling concerns about the environmental fallout from contamination and a subsurface fire at a landfill in St. Louis County, Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster said Thursday.
Several findings were released about the Bridgeton Landfill, including radiological contamination in trees outside the landfill's perimeter and that the underground fire has moved past two rows of interceptor wells that were built by owner Republic Services to keep it from reaching buried nuclear waste in an adjacent landfill.
"These reports underscore what has been clear from the beginning — Republic Services does not have this site under control," Koster said in a statement. "Not only does the landfill emit a foul odor, it appears that it has poisoned its neighbors' groundwater and vegetation."
Republic Services said in a statement that the state "appears intent on making conditions seem scary, which only exacerbates public angst and confusion." The statement said some of the new conclusions are overstated and others are scientifically wrong.
"Despite the theatrics, the State's experts found no threat to public health or safety that actually exists," the Phoenix-based company said. "In addition, the State's reports do not provide any new data indicating subsurface reaction movement in the direction of radiologically impacted materials. Bridgeton Landfill is in a managed state. It is safe, and it is intensely monitored."
Koster filed suit against Republic Services in 2013, alleging negligent management and violation of state environmental laws. The landfill often creates an odor so strong that many residents say they are often forced to stay indoors.
The underground fire is near the adjacent West Lake Landfill, where waste from nuclear weapons production was illegally dumped four decades ago. The Environmental Protection Agency is determining the best way to clean up the West Lake site, but told a Washington, D.C.-based environmental watchdog group in November that the smoldering fire didn't appear to be encroaching.
"We will include all pertinent data in our decision making at the West Lake Landfill Superfund Site," the EPA's Region 7 office said Thursday.
Dawn Chapman, who lives about two miles from the landfill with her husband and three children, said the reports are proof that action needs to be taken. "I think it's evident with what came out today that we've been lied to by this company, and frankly, our Environmental Protection Agency has failed us," Chapman said.
The reports, which were done by university researchers and experts, also found:
— Radiological and organic contamination was detected in trees on land next to the Bridgeton Landfill.
— Contamination in groundwater outside the perimeter of the landfill.
— A "catastrophic event" fire "was foreseeable and preventable," according to Todd Thalhamer, a California civil engineer and landfill fire expert, and that the landfill operator's decision to overdraw gas-collection systems and inadequately maintain soil cover were factors causing the fire.
The reports were gathered as part of Koster's lawsuit, which is scheduled for trial in March.