TO US Senator Claire McCaskill
FROM: NICHOLAS TREVINO, UNDERGRADUATE RESEARCHER, DAVIDSON COLLEGE
REGARDING: WEST LAKE LANDFILL FIRE
DATE March 20, 2016
Bridgeton landfill’s fire puts marginalized communities at risk of both severe chronic and acute health effects. The fire’s significant potential to reach illegally disposed of nuclear waste acutely endangers the surrounding community to a possible radioactive smoke plume. The landfill’s lack of safeguards chronically exposes the community every day to carcinogens leading to a high rare illness rate. Despite significant community activism, local government failed to sustainably solve to the landfill fire. My research argues that removing the irradiated waste and building a landfill cap best safeguard public health.
RISK OF ACUTE PROBLEMS:
The fire within the landfill risks hitting irradiated refuse creating a nuclear plume.
- Ali Abedini contends that the fire bypassed the defensive gas interceptor wells and is moving towards the irradiated waste1.
- Tony Sperling and Thalhamer contend that Republic service’s negligent “aggressive over-extracting” of landfill gas, and inadequate soil coverage created the fire2.
- Thalhamer argued that the landfill fire potential to reach the irradiated zone “was “foreseeable,” “preventable,” “catastrophic,” and might cause nuclear fallout2.
CURRENT CHRONIC PROBLEMS:
The landfill has few safeguards against public exposure despite high risk to water supplies.
- Bridgeton Landfill lacks both a covered top and clay lining separating the landfill from groundwater3. Only a chain-linked fence separates the landfill from the community3.
- Robert Criss, a WASHU geochemist, argues that the landfill’s high risk of earthquakes, flooding, liquefaction, and groundwater leaching makes it a bad site to store nuclear waste4.
- The landfill lies on Missouri’s water basin and sits eight miles downstream of 300,000 people’s main water reservoir4.
Landfill waste spills into the surrounding community exposing them to unknown carcinogens.
- No organization has comprehensively surveyed the landfill’s chemicals3.
- Joel Burken and Shoaib Usman found “radiological and organic contamination” in trees surrounding the landfill5 .
- The Missouri Geological Survey found benzene, acetone, butanone, and radium in groundwater outside the landfill that they linked back to the landfill’s leachate1.
- Republic services violated state law by emitting sulfur dioxide beyond state regulations; sulfur dioxide has been linked to respiratory illness, bronchoconstriction and asthma3.
- AG Koster accused Republic Services of “poisoning its neighbors’ groundwater and vegetation1.”
The community surrounding the landfill has higher rates of rare illnesses.
- County health officials have inadequately measured the landfill’s effects on public health6.
- A 2014 Missouri Department of Health study concluded that the two zip codes near the landfill had a significantly higher rate of rare childhood brain cancers3.The surrounding community suffers from higher rates of thyroid cancer, breast cancer, colon, prostate and bladder cancer7.
- Missouri’s Department of Natural Resources warned citizen with chronic respiratory diseases to limit time outdoors due to high levels of benzene and hydrogen sulfide in the air4.
- Environmental risks have an interactive effect on the poverty related health problems. The community’s low socioeconomic status leads to higher illness rates, but also a lower illness reporting rates due to a lack of insurance.
Option One: No change and continue to rely on the emergency evacuation plan. This option fails to address both the chronic and acute effects of the landfill pollution.
- Inaction yields high economic costs: Since 2000, the community’s property values have decreased by about 30,000 to 32,000 USD, and no one has built new homes in the community since 20058.. Hospital bills and lost productivity generate a high economic cost. Removing the irradiated refuse would be costly, but the potential cost of the fire reaching the nuclear materials would be exponentially more9.
- Public health/human rights costs: Trapping society’s most vulnerable in exploitative environmental conditions demeans our society and political institutions. The Status quo engenders high rate of avoidable diseases.
- Feasibility problem: St Louis’s emergency evacuation plan would likely fail under the burden of unprecedented massive evacuations. The evacuation plan states that a disaster “will most likely occur with little or no warning” 10. Evacuation efforts would suffer unprecedented confusion over the distribution of resources, responsibility and authority over several levels of jurisdiction10. The community living around the landfill relies on public transportation, has a higher elderly population, high population and has less wealth than the rest of Missouri, which complicates evacuation efforts8 .
Option Two: Construct an underground wall between the irradiated materials and fire. While this might reduce the potential acute problems, it ignores the community’s chronic health problems.
- Feasibility problem: Missouri Coalition for the Environment argues the paucity of research on the exact location and composition of irradiated soil complicates any effort to partition the radiation from the fire. Even with a wall, the landfill is still vulnerable to earthquakes, flooding, and tornados11. They can’t start construction till 201711.
- Public health: Building an underground internal wall doesn’t prevent wind blowing chemical particles into the community, the trash’s smell, nor does it protect the community’s groundwater.
- Economic cost: The financial cost is hard to project, but Republic Services would have to pay4. It is the cheapest option that still prevents the nuclear smoke issue. The community still has to suffer through the negative economic externalities of landfill’s daily pollution.
Option Three: transfer authority to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, remove the irradiated waste and build a cap to stop further community harm. This option best addresses the potential acute health risks as well as the chronic health risks the community faces.
- Public health: Republic Services claims that unearthing and storing nuclear waste risks public health and would be costly. The Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), which deals with St. Louis’s other irradiated areas, has already moved a million cubic yards of materials with no risk to the public9.This case would not be much different. This would sustainably protect an impoverished community’s public health.
- Economic cost: Would likely cost 415 million in US tax dollars dollars, but it’s hard to project cost due to unknown amount of irradiated materials4.
- Feasibility: Transferring the project to the USACE would likely lead to more delays. It will likely take more time than the other options.
- A landfill cap would reduce wind deposition of landfill particles and community exposure.
Recommendations: I recommend removing the nuclear waste from the landfill, because it most sustainably secures both short and long-term public health. Other options, while less expensive, did little to address the environmental injustice waged against the community. Removing all irritated waste has a composite score of 2.3, which is marginally higher than building an internal wall’s (2). The US federal government illegally dumped the waste, and so they should have to pay to repair the damage. Removing all nuclear waste will likely take the longest to complete, but it will ensure St. Louis never faces nuclear fallout. It’s a great shame that our country condemns the most economically and politically vulnerable to the most environmentally scarred parts of our nation, and removing the waste will help end that injustice.
1-Negligible or no impact
2-A medium, but not overwhelming impact
- Public health benefit was defined by the option’s ability to address both chronic and acute health affects from the landfill.
- Economic cost and benefit was defined by the cost to implement the option as well as the economic benefit it might provide.
- Feasibility was defined by how quickly and efficiently the option could be implemented.
- Environmental benefits measures how effectively the option reduces landfill’s exposure outside the landfill.
|Public health benefit||Economic benefits and Cost||Feasibility||Environmental benefits||Weighted Score|
|Building an internal barrier||2||2||2||2||2|
|Removing all nuclear waste||3||1||2||3||2.3|
- Koster. Missouri Attorney General – Chris Koster. Missouri Attorney General Website (2015). Available at: http://ago.mo.gov/home/ag-koster-releases-new-expert-reports-concluding-radiation-and-other-pollutants-have-migrated-off-site-at-bridgeton-landfill. (Accessed: 5th March 2016)
2 Thalhamer, T. Providing Environmental Response and Engineering for Waste Fires and Disasters. 61 (2015).
- Schuessler, R. St. Louis burning: America’s atomic legacy haunts city. Al Jazeera (2015). Available at: http://america.aljazeera.com/multimedia/2015/4/americas-atomic-legacy-haunts-st-louis.html. (Accessed: 13th March 2016)
4 Hsieh, S. St. Louis Landfill Fire | Rolling Stone. St. Louis Is Burning (2013). Available at: http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/st-louis-is-burning-20130510. (Accessed: 5th March 2016)
- 12. Usman, S. & Burken, J. Tree Core analysis. 33 (2015).
- Schuessler, R. St. Louis Landfill Fire Near Radioactive Waste | Al Jazeera America. Al Jazeera (2015). Available at: http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2015/9/18/missouri-st-louis-landfill-fire-could-reach-radioactive-waste-in-months.html. (Accessed: 5th March 2016)
7 Yun, S. Analysis of cancer incidence data in eight ZIP code areas around Coldwater Creek, 1996- 2011. 40 (The Department of Health and Senior Services, 2014).
- City Data. Bridgeton, Missouri (MO) profile. (2016). Available at: http://www.city-data.com/city/Bridgeton-Missouri.html. (Accessed: 21st March 2016)
- Schuessler, R. St. Louis anxious about EPA plan for barrier between fire, toxic waste. Al Jazeera (2016). Available at: http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2016/1/8/st-louis-residents-anxious-after-epa-announcement-on-landfill-fire.html. (Accessed: 13th March 2016)
- St Louis County. WestLake Plan – FULL.pdf. 53 (St Louis County, 2014).
- Missouri Coalition for the Environment. West Lake Landfill. Missouri Coalition for the Environment (2015). Available at: http://moenvironment.org/program-areas/radioactive-landfill-fire-risks. (Accessed: 21st March 2016)
12 Goodyear, S. A St. Louis County Landfill Fire Is Creeping Dangerously Close to a Radioactive Waste Site – CityLab. The Atlantic: City Lab (2015). Available at: http://www.citylab.com/politics/2015/10/in-st-louis-fears-rise-as-a-landfill-fire-nears-a-radioactive-waste-site/409846/. (Accessed: 5th March 2016)
- Kaltofen, M. P. J., Alvarez, R. & Hixson, L. Tracking legacy radionuclides in St. Louis, Missouri, via unsupported 210Pb. Journal of Environmental Radioactivity 153, 104–111 (2016).
- Usman, S. Report on Westlake Landfill Phytoforensic Assessment using Gamma Spectroscopy. 7 (Mining and Nuclear Engeneering Missouri University of Science and Technology, 2015).