A Brief History of the West Lake Landfill
The West Lake Landfill is an unlined landfill and Superfund site located in Bridgeton, Missouri. In 1973, leached barium sulfate residue originating from the Manhattan Project, was combined with topsoil and illegally dumped at the West Lake site.
The landfill is divided into multiple sectors, within which are two radioactive operable units (OU), OU-1 and OU-2, which both contain the same combination of highly radioactive material. Barium sulfate cake residue is the only compound recorded to have been dumped in 1973.
The West Lake Landfill site originated in 1939 as a limestone quarry operated by the Westlake Quarry Company. Landfilling at the site began in the 1950s. In 1973, B&K Construction Co., a company contracted by Cotter Corporation, dumped 8,700 short tons (7,900 t) of leached barium sulfate and 39,000 short tons (35,000 t) of soil at the landfill. The leached barium sulfate was a byproduct of Mallinckrodt Chemical Works’ uranium enrichment program as a part of the Manhattan Project and later nuclear weapon production.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission discovered the disposal and investigated the site, publishing a report in 1977.
In October 1990, the EPA placed the landfill on the National Priorities List, designating it as a Superfund site.
After decades of investigation, including multiple studies, public meetings, and public comment periods, the EPA selected a final site cleanup plan. In 2008, the EPA announced that they would contain the contaminated sites by placing a multilayered cover over 40 acres of OU-1. The EPA plan also required institutional controls and monitoring of the site. After receiving additional comments from environmental groups and the general public, the EPA asked the potentially responsible parties to commission a study of alternative cleanup options. The resulting supplemental feasibility study was released in 2011.
In 2012, following consultation with the EPA National Remedy Review Board, the EPA asked the potentially responsible parties to gather more data and perform additional evaluations.
After conducting an aerial survey of the site and surrounding areas in 2013, the EPA reported that the radioactive waste remained contained within OU-1 and posed no safety risk to outlying areas.
On December 23, 2010, multiple gas extraction wells reported rising temperatures. Further investigation revealed elevated hydrogen and carbon monoxide and reduced methane levels in extracted gas, suggestive of a subsurface smoldering event (SSE). A subsurface smoldering event or fire occurs deep within a landfill and produces no visible flame or smoke - instead, this form of combustion is slow and low-temperature. The smoldering fire is located 1,000 feet away from OU-1, raising fear about the consequences St. Louis County will face if the fire does reach the radioactive material.