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.

 

What should I do if there is a radiation emergency?

St. Louis County has a plan in place to evacuate any area of the county should there be a need. Those evacuations may be caused by floods, tornadoes or even earthquakes. In late 2013, St. Louis County realized a need to write a disaster specific plan for an evacuation in the area near the West Lake Landfill should the subsurface fire reach the surface and spread to the radioactive material. This plan was developed in conjunction with St. Charles County and outlines how First Responders will respond to the area and identify who and how to safely evacuate anyone affected by the event.

Things to Keep in Mind about an Evacuation

The first step of any evacuation will be a Shelter In Place order. Why? Because until First Repsonders know what exactly what they are dealing with and where it is (it will depend on the direction the wind is blowing, how strong the wind is and other environmental factors) immediately leaving your home is NOT the safest course of action. Shelter in Place orders rarely last more than a few hours.

St. Louis County has plans in place to evacuate any area within the county should there be a need to do so. In addition to those plans, St. Louis County, in conjunction with St. Charles County developed an evacuation plan for the area around the West Lake Landfill. This plan outlines, in broad terms, how First Responders will respond and how notification will be made to the public.

Public Notification

Should a Shelter In Place or Evacuation Order be issued, there are several methods of public notification, including but not limited to, Law Enforcement loud speakers, MODOT message boards and the National Weather Service (NWS) Emergency Alert System (EAS), which sends alerts to broadcast media. EAS also accounts for special populations suchj as the deaf and those with special language requirements. In addition, St. Louis County will use Social Media sites (such as Facebook and Twitter) to make emergency announcements. St. Louis County also utilizes a service called "Nixle" where citizens can sign up to emergency bulletins via text and email. You may sign up for free at www.nixle.com

The Plan

The Shelter In Place/Evacuation Plan was completed in October of 2014 and was exercised in June of 2015. The plan is currently being updated, and the latest version should be uploaded by the end of 2015. Until then, you may download the 2014 plan.

If you live or work in the are of the West Lake Landfill, you are strongly encouraged to develop your own Shelter In place/Evacuation plan. You should know how to shelter in place and where you would go if you have to evacuate. (Shelters will be available for those who need them, and they will be identified when the Evacuation order is issued.) Tips on developing a plan are available on our Get Prepared page.

Please direct all questions or comments to St. Louis County OEM Director Mark Diedrich.