BRIDGETON, MO. (AP) - Residents who live near a troubled landfill in St. Louis County are raising money for their own radiation monitors and seeking renewed government attention.
The action comes after a surface fire broke out Sunday at Bridgeton Landfill. The landfill was already under scrutiny because of odor problems that prompted a lawsuit last year by Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster, and the presence of underground smoldering near where nuclear waste is buried.
Representatives for landfill owner Republic Services, the Pattonville Fire Protection District and emergency communications officials will meet next week, in part to review an emergency and evacuation plan.
The fire on Sunday was caused by a pipe break that allowed oxygen to get under a cap put in place to help reduce the odor so powerful at times last year that residents living nearby had to keep their windows closed. The fire burned a chunk of plastic.
Officials say it was unrelated to the underground smoldering that is responsible for the foul smell. But the odor, and the smoldering that is near Cold War-era radioactive waste at the adjacent West Lake federal Superfund site, continue to raise concerns from residents of Bridgeton and other nearby communities.
The smoldering just below the surface of the landfill was discovered in 2010. It's not technically a fire but is fueled by an underground reaction of decomposing waste. Few people were aware of it until last year, when it began to produce the foul odor.
"I don't think it's productive when we are still fighting the fire," Koster said. "We've got a situation, an emergency we're dealing with that's very difficult. If we thought that fining Republic at this juncture would improve the situation, we would do that."
Koster is demanding that Republic act quickly to find a place for a firewall to block the smoldering from spreading even closer to the nuclear waste. He also wants additional carbon monoxide data.
Residents are worried about long-term exposure. They want to buy two air quality monitors valued at $500 each to be placed in the backyards of volunteers in a neighborhood near the landfill.
"There's nobody looking at what happens when you take a community and you expose it to this level of (the carcinogen) benzene almost every day for six, seven years," said Dawn Chapman, a local organizer from nearby Maryland Heights. "We have to put those levels out there so people can make their own decisions."
The Environmental Protection Agency said that air monitoring of the West Lake site last year showed the radioactive waste was contained, and testing in and around the site continues to monitor for any changes.