St. Louis Post-Dispatch
by Jacob Barker
The owner of the Bridgeton Landfill will install more cooling loops and temperature monitors and expand a plastic cover over the Bridgeton Landfill in an effort to keep an underground fire from reaching radioactive waste.
Federal authorities announced the actions Thursday but said they wouldn’t be the last in the efforts to build a barrier separating the radioactively contaminated West Lake Landfill from the smoldering Bridgeton Landfill.
Work is still ongoing to design a wall-like structure separating the landfills, Environmental Protection Agency Region 7 Administrator Mark Hague said in a conference call. But there was agreement between the EPA and the landfill owners on “a number of first actions that can be taken,” he said.
The actions are precautionary, Hague said; the EPA doesn’t believe the fire is moving toward the radioactive waste.
“It hasn’t really changed much and isn’t rapidly advancing,” he said.
EPA’s order appears to implement a state order to install additional cooling loops in the neck that landfill owner Republic Services had appealed and recently lost. The EPA order stipulates that the heat extraction system be installed “in accordance with the conditions specified in the Missouri Department of Natural Resources’ December 4, 2015, approval letter.”
“We expected the EPA to assume jurisdiction,” Republic Services said in a statement. “We have been ready to put these protective measures in place for some time, and we remain committed to working with the EPA on the implementation of an isolation barrier.”
Hague said the addition of more cooling loops would complement the existing system in the narrow neck area of the landfill. The fire is in the southern quarry of the Bridgeton Landfill, and the neck connects the southern quarry with the north quarry, where the EPA has found radioactive contamination.
Uranium processing waste was dumped in the West Lake Landfill in the 1970s, but public concern exploded earlier this decade after an underground fire broke out in the adjacent Bridgeton Landfill.
In 2013, Republic Services announced it would build a barrierseparating the two landfills. But EPA investigations indicated there may be radioactive contamination beyond where the agency thought it was buried, and the barrier was in limbo for a over a year.
In March it released studies that it says show the extent of radioactive waste and allow it build the isolation barrier without disturbing it.
While engineering work on the barrier continues, Republic Services has to submit plans for the cooling system within 30 days, and it must finish the work on the cooling system four months after it begins construction.
In addition to the cooling infrastructure, Republic Services will expand a plastic liner that it installed over the south quarry of Bridgeton Landfill onto the north quarry. That should help control the fire by blocking oxygen “as well as mitigate some of the odors coming off of this site,” Hague said.
It will also install more temperature monitors and two sulfur dioxide monitors to track emissions of the gas that exacerbates respiratory conditions. Missouri has measured elevated levels of the gas in past months near the landfill.
Finally, Republic Services will be required to develop a system to quickly inject gas to extinguish any hot spots that the fire creates.