Patrick Masterson, Guest Student Writer
Patricia Splett lived in Bridgeton for 27 years in the Carrollton apartments. It was a great place to live with her husband, daughter, and stepdaughter. The girls played soccer and baseball at the same location the family celebrated the Fourth of July, the Bridgeton Athletic Complex.
The only downside to the area was the smell that never seemed to go away.
The smell was from the nearby dump, the West Lake Landfill. Radioactive material from the Manhattan Project was dumped there in 1973. Remnants of the waste have been seeping out to the rest of the community.
In 2014, the smell became so bad that Republic Services, the company that owned the landfill, offered Splett a buyout who is now very unhappy about the offer.
“Most concerning is the lack of transparency that Republic offered since the start,” Splett said. “For example in 2014 when the stench was terrible they offered a $500 nuisance fee for us to leave our homes while they attempted to address the smell by digging the ground up. They didn’t mention it was toxic to be there; the stink was the worst of the problems”.
An underground fire, which started at the landfill seven years ago, is causing extra particles to release into the air. Living somewhere that smells is one thing, but living next to a potential radioactive disaster is another thing entirely.
“I have had thyroid cancer. My next-door neighbors had two children under 20 diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis,” Splett said. “A lot of weird cancers and illness in a small area”.
In 2014, data from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services showed a rise in the rates of rare cancers near the landfill. The radiation is already leaking from the site and traces have been found in homes and businesses nearby.
Jacqueline Eberle moved to the area about three-and-a-half years ago with her husband, planning to find a home to raise a future family in. The Splett family was blessed with twins who are now 16 months old. Eberle just found out a few days ago about the issue that is so close to home and is very concerned.
“I want answers, clear answers,” said Eberle. “But more importantly I want this problem fixed immediately and every last bit of hazardous waste/material removed”.
This is just the tip of the iceberg.
Economist Peter Anderson has spent more than 20 years studying landfills and spoke about the worst-case scenario of the radioactive material and the fire meeting. The radioactive material would turn into a “dirty bomb.”
This would not be an explosion according to Anderson.
“A dirty bomb is not nuclear fission,” Anderson said. “It’s not an atomic bomb, it’s not a weapon of mass destruction, but the dispersal of that radioactive material in air that could reach, depending upon weather conditions, as far as ten miles from the site could make it impossible to have economic activity continue.”
Even scarier is that the Missouri river is less than a mile and a half from the landfill. This radiation would hit a main river that is used for commerce.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classified West Lake as a superfund site in 1990. A superfund site is a location in the U.S. that the EPA deems in need of a cleanup due to risk of human health or is a risk to the environment.
In 2013 the EPA Region 7 Administrator Karl Brooks reassured the local residents that the area is completely safe.
“The water people drink is safe, the air they breathe is safe,” Brooks said during the meeting.
It seems they were wrong, because as of December, the West Lake site was named one of the 21 locations that need immediate action. A five-year plan is now in place from the EPA to remove 70 percent of the radioactive material.
The community is speaking out with their issues about the EPA’s plan, but only time will tell what will really happen.