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It was practical considerations that led Dawn and Brian Chapman to Maryland Heights, a modest suburb of St.
Louis bound by two interstate highways, several strip malls, an international airport, and the Missouri River.
Infrastructure on the Bridgeton Landfill monitors and manages an underground fire.
Republic built a plant on-site to process the increased amounts of toxic leachate produced by the high temperatures.
“It was like rotten dead bodies, and there was a kerosene, chemical odor, too,” says Dawn.
“People were gagging.” reported that the odors were coming from a fire that had been burning 80 feet to 120 feet below ground at the landfill for almost two years and was likely to smolder for many more.
When he and Chapman first spoke in early 2013, she’d been poring through records dating to the 1970s collected by a lifelong antinuclear activist named Kay Drey.
“Dawn told me about the illegally dumped nuclear waste, that there had been instances where it had gone off-site, which were documented, that when West Lake was unregulated it had received all kinds of toxic chemicals, including paint and jet fuel,” says Ferdman.
Republic Services Inc., the company that owns the landfill, told the paper its staff was working to tame the “subsurface smoldering reaction”—an industry term of art for combustion that has no oxygen fueling it or flames rising from it.But the EPA says that since no one is being exposed to the dangerous particles, there’s no current health risk.Republic argues that the agency’s recommendation to cover the waste is still the safest, quickest, and easiest remedy.With the initial recommendation to cap the waste, “the EPA has already established the fact that there’s a risk to human health if they don’t take action,” says Ed Smith, policy director of the Missouri Coalition for the Environment.His group wants some, if not all, of the waste removed from West Lake.
That was when the stench overcame their neighborhood.