The two smoldering landfills in Bridgeton, Missouri have forced the community around them to take action. Just Moms STL, a group headed by area moms Karen Nickel and Dawn Chapman, has executed steps from community phone calls to representatives to meeting with EPA administrator Gina McCarthy to discuss relocation. The group and the problem have attracted national attention, and yet the Bridgeton and West Lake Landfills seems to remain a Bridgeton issue in the eyes of many St. Louisans—not a St. Louis issue. This has to change.
It’s easy for the issue to remain localized for several reasons. First, St. Louisans can dismiss the landfills as a problem only for those who live near them. Since most St. Louis residents aren’t currently experiencing the health effects or odor of the landfills, they don’t have the constant reminder of the danger there. Last fall, St. Louis County released emergency evacuation plans, and rumors flew about the possibility of radioactive waste being spread by wind throughout the whole of St. Louis. But after these scares died down, most of St. Louis put West Lake on the back burner.
Bridgeton residents continue to push forward on the issue, and the rest of St. Louis needs to do the same. The question of unity continues to dog the city, as it has for so many things. The Greater St. Louis area is separated into St. Louis City and St. Louis County, a divide that hurts both sides. The county is further divided into municipalities, which have their own semi-independent jurisdiction. The problems in this division and hierarchy were demonstrated, for example, during the Black Lives Matter movement in 2014. Ferguson as a municipality, St. Louis County, and St. Louis City were all at odds for authority, and they, especially in regards to their separate police, failed to coordinate.
In that case, however, St. Louis residents did recognize that Black Lives Matter was not just a Ferguson issue—it was a city-wide, nation-wide issue. The movement was not limited to Ferguson, and actions occurred across the city and county. The same needs to happen for the West Lake and Bridgeton Landfills. Republic dumpsters are in every other alley in St. Louis city. Republic has sites not only in Bridgeton, but in Cahokia, South County, and North City. St. Louis residents have to realize that the landfills are an issue for the whole of St. Louis and rally around leaders like Just Moms STL.