Residents of North St. Louis and St. Charles are still haunted by the effects of The Manhattan Project, which led to the production of the United States’ first nuclear weapons during World War II. 8,700 tons of nuclear waste have been sitting on the surface of the West Lake Landfill Superfund Site in Bridgeton, Missouri for almost 44 years now.
The radioactive material, acquired by Mallinckrodt Chemical Company in 1942, was illegally dumped and began contaminating the nearby Coldwater Creek, parks, and several other locations in the area. Residents were left completely in the dark about the situation for decades.
Last Sunday, I met with the founders of Just Moms STL, Dawn Chapman and Karen Nickel. They have been fighting tirelessly to bring awareness to this toxic mess, which is causing rare cancers and other serious illnesses among residents in the community.“This group has been educating and promoting awareness about the world’s oldest leftover nuclear weapons waste in the St. Louis area,” the mothers explain.
While talking with Chapman and Nickel, I was absolutely shocked at the magnitude of the West Lake Landfill problem. I didn’t think it could get much worse than nuclear waste sitting in your neighborhood, but unfortunately, it does get worse.
For the past 7 years, an underground fire has been growing beneath the Bridgeton Landfill, which is connected to the West Lake Landfill.
The fire is now a mere 600 feet away from the radioactive waste. In 2014, St. Louis County released an emergency operations plan, which explains that if the fire reaches the nuclear waste, “there is a potential for radioactive fallout to be released in the smoke plume and spread throughout the region”.
The St. Louis emergency management plan labels this scenario as a “catastrophic event”. Oh, and the cherry on top of this environmental hazard is the fact that the Superfund Site sits less than one and a half miles from the Missouri River. You know, the river that provides clean drinking water for millions of Americans.
The entire St. Louis area is in danger of further contamination of their drinking water, soil, and the very air they breathe. Karen Nickel has noted an uptick in appendix cancer cases affecting those close to the site, along with the plethora of other illnesses residents are experiencing due to the toxins.
“The majority of people in St. Louis don’t even know that we processed uranium for the Manhattan Project, much less that we have an emergency plan,” says Dawn Chapman.
Another local organization making a difference is the Earth Defense Coalition. On March 31st, nine brave activists chained themselves to 500-pound cement barrels, successfully blocking entry to both landfills for over 8 hours. The non-violent action caught the eye of Justice Democrat Cori Bush, who penned a heartfelt essay about the situation in the St. Louis American.
So why isn’t anyone taking action before this chemical fire becomes a reality? There are two corporations responsible for the site: Republic Services (of which Bill Gates is the majority shareholder) and the Cotter Corporation.
St. Louis Public Radio reports: “The power company Exelon Corp. owned Cotter from 1974 to 2000. When it sold the company, Exelon agreed to retain certain financial obligations relating to environmental claims arising from past Cotter actions, including those at West Lake.”
Republic Services would also be partially responsible for the $400 million cleanup at West Lake. This would obviously be a big financial loss for both companies, so they’re determined to persuade the public that hauling the waste out of the area and into a nuclear storage facility is a bad idea.
It all comes down to money. Money won’t be worth a damn thing when we’re out of clean drinking water. Power will be useless when our planet is no longer inhabitable. This issue deserves mainstream media coverage but alas has not gotten it. So, I will keep reporting on the West Lake Landfill until St. Louis sees real action.