St. Louis Post-Dispatch
by Bylthe Bernhard
Residents who live in the 400 homes closest to the smoldering Bridgeton Landfill will be compensated thousands of dollars for enduring foul odors from the site in an agreement reached Thursday in a lawsuit against the landfill’s owners.
Bridgeton Landfill LLC, a subsidiary of Republic Services, agreed to a preliminary settlement of more than $6.8 million in a 2013 federal class action lawsuit filed by six Bridgeton residents on behalf of their neighbors. The residents’ attorneys will receive one-fourth of the payout, leaving an average award of $12,750 per household.
The awards are based on property values and proximity to the landfill. Residents will be entitled to $26,250 for single family homes in the Spanish Village subdivision, $15,375 in the Terrisan Reste mobile home community and about $3,900 in the Carrollton Village condominiums. The money is intended to offset the loss to property values as well as anxiety caused by the odors, according to plaintiffs’ attorney Ted Gianaris of the Simmons Law Firm in Alton.
Anyone who accepts the settlement is prevented from filing any further nuisance claims for property damage due to the landfill’s odor. The settlement does not prevent future lawsuits for health problems or any potential nuclear event arising from the burning landfill, which sits next to radioactive waste, Gianaris said.
“It’s what I call ‘fair money fast,’” Gianaris said. “No one is hitting the lottery with this settlement, but they’re going to have options now when they collect. They can put a down payment on a house somewhere else or pay off debts.”
Gianaris said he believes Republic Services settled the lawsuit under pressure from the community.
“We are the first to acknowledge that the odors have been a source of considerable public concern and frustration,” Russ Knocke, a Republic Services spokesman, said in a statement. “We share that frustration and hope that the resolution of this suit will bring peace of mind to our community. We also sincerely appreciate the community’s patience as we continue to do everything within our power to rectify a complex and unfortunate situation that we did not create.”
An underground fire at the defunct Bridgeton Landfill was first reported more than three years ago. The fire stirred up noxious odors as well as concerns about the proximity to radioactive waste at the adjacent West Lake Landfill, which is also owned by Republic Services. Last year, Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster sued the waste management company for environmental violations.
Republic Services placed a plastic cap on part of the Bridgeton Landfill last summer in an effort to lessen the odors. An odor log maintained by the state Department of Natural Resources contains about 400 complaints since the fire started. According to monitors placed by the state, the strongest odors occurred in April through July 2013, although the majority of complaints have been logged since August.
Several people on a Facebook page devoted to the landfill issue have pushed residents to pursue a buyout of their homes. Gianaris, the residents’ attorney, said lawyers were unable to negotiate a buyout with Republic Services. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which is responsible for the cleanup of West Lake under its Superfund toxic sites program, has said that the landfills do not pose a health risk to residents, and buyouts are not an option with the project.
Other concerns were voiced by workers at companies surrounding the landfill who feel they’ve been left out of the process. Tony Gilard spends nine to 10 hours a day working at Hussmann Corp., just across St. Charles Rock Road from the landfill.
“I’m outraged, I’m disgusted,” Gilard said. “The same thing that was going on with (residents) was going on with us.”
The odors could get worse as construction is expected to begin soon on a barrier between the Bridgeton and West Lake landfills to keep the fire from reaching the radioactive waste. Also Thursday, the EPA agreed to a preliminary work plan for the barrier with the Army Corps of Engineers, which has handled other radioactive waste cleanups in the St. Louis area, including sites downtown and at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport. At West Lake, the corps’ involvement will include reviewing plans and observing the work.
An Aug. 1 hearing is scheduled for final approval of the class action settlement.