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.
By Jacob Metz
Last week, President Obama became the first sitting president to visit Hiroshima, one of only two sites directly targeted by nuclear warfare. He used the trip to promote his vision of a world without nuclear weapons, encouraging the global community to “have the courage to escape the logic of fear” and to eliminate nuclear stockpiles from military arsenals. We would do well to heed Obama’s call to work towards a world free from the threat of nuclear weapons. But a world free from nuclear weapons must also mean a world free from dangerous nuclear waste situated near our communities.
In 1942, the St. Louis-based Mallinckrodt Chemical Works became one of the main processors of uranium ore for the Manhattan Project, the government-sponsored project tasked with developing nuclear weaponry for use in World War II. The Army Corps of Engineers estimates that Mallinckrodt Chemical Works played a large role in the production of weapons-grade uranium, from the end of World War II to the height of the Cold War in 1957. The heightened focus on the possibility of war combined with a rudimentary scientific understanding of the health effects of radioactivity meant that little attention was devoted to figuring out how to safely dispose of the radioactive waste.
After the 1950s, the radioactive waste changed hands several times around the St. Louis area before falling under the supervision of the Cotter Corporation, which illegally disposed of the waste in the West Lake Landfill. Though dumped nearly fifty years ago, the nuclear waste still remains in the West Lake Landfill today, posing a direct threat to the public health and local environment of nearby Bridgeton, Missouri.
Despite the consistent efforts of local activists like Dawn Chapman and Karen Nichols to call for the complete removal of the waste, the EPA has stalled and not used its full authority to properly and efficiently remediate the site through the Superfund law. The content of the West Lake Landfill is already strongly believed by residents to be linked to cases of cancer in the community, especially since a Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services report claims that the exact same waste in nearby Coldwater Creek was linked to statistically higher rates of cancer in surrounding zip codes.
Local Bridgeton residents want jurisdiction over the clean-up of the site to be transferred to the Army Corps of Engineers, a federal agency which has already successfully remediated other St. Louis sites affected by the same nuclear waste. Congress must pass S. 2306 to transfer authority of the clean-up to the Army Corps of Engineers and to protect the health of Bridgeton residents. As we contemplate the legacy of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we must remember that nuclear weapons threaten the lives of civilians both through their use in war as well as through their domestic production.
I can’t believe that President Obama drank a sip of water from Flint. It was a slap in the face to so many people. His own agency was responsible for not raising the alarms when EPA received data that said the water was poisoned. Obama has done a number of extraordinary things while in office. Yes, I voted for him and yes, I’d likely do it again. I’m stunned. What in the world could Obama have been thinking when he drank that water? Of course there is no way his water was toxic from chemicals, viruses or bacteria let alone lead. Further dismissing the crisis, he said he likely eat lead paint chips as a child. Really? That dismissal brings no comfort to the parents of lead poisoned children who will never reach their birth potential and are sick. I can’t help but wonder if Gina McCarthy orchestrated that news event.
Obama’s person in charge, Gina McCarthy, EPA Administrator has ignored literally all but one division of EPA’s programs and responsibility including drinking water. The one exception since she was confirmed in July 2013 is climate change. Remember the January 2014 West Virginia Elk River spill that poisoned the drinking water of 300,000 people. Drinking water in schools, hospitals, family homes with pregnant women and small children were exposed to toxic chemicals resulting in serious health impacts. The company responsible had not been inspected by EPA since 1991. You would think that McCarthy’s EPA would monitor the site after the spill but they didn’t. Seven months later, in June 2014, another spill from the same company occurred from a sump pump malfunction into the same Elk River.
Then in February 2014 there was the Dan River coal ash spill that poisoned the river from Virginia to North Carolina. For a week a pipe poured arsenic and other heavy metals 140,000 tons of toxic waste and wastewater directly into the river. Ash was found on the bottom of the river for 70 miles and as much as 5 feet deep in places.
Today, the question of what to do with coal ash wastes is still a problem especially for low income communities. EPA is behind the proposal to dump it in garbage landfills in mostly low wealth, rural, communities of color. Gina McCarthy supports this proposal but the US Commission on Civil Rights is investigating the fairness of the plan.
The Colorado Animas River spill was solely the fault of EPA’s lack of careful attention. It was EPA that accidentally released an estimate of three million gallons of waste water into the river in August 2015. This river supplies drinking water to area residents. EPA authorities knew about the risk through a June 2014 work order that read “Conditions may exist that could result in a blowout of the blockages and cause a release of large volumes of contaminated mine waters and sediment from inside the mine, which contain concentrated heavy metals” and through a May 2015 action plan for the mine that also noted “the potential for a blowout.” People living along the Animas and San Juan rivers were advised to have their water tested before using it for cooking, drinking, or bathing. The spill also caused major problems for farmers and ranchers who rely on the rivers for their livelihoods.
The next crisis is likely in St Louis, MO. An underground fire from one old dump site is creeping towards the adjunct radioactive site. When the fire reaches the radioactive materials the state’s Attorney General’s experts say there could be a Chernobyl like event. This possible crisis can be taken care and avoided but McCarthy is not acting. Saying you are sorry and accepting the resignation of staff is not how to run an agency.
McCarthy has hurt so many innocent American people and the reputation of the agency is questionable. I don’t know if EPA can ever recover. Her advice to the President should have been, say you’re sorry, don’t act like me, an incompetent leader and declare the situation what it is a disaster. Then bring in the troops to change the pipes so everyone can be sure their water is safe.