Those living near the St. Louis area’s West Lake Landfill have complained for years about the health risks of radioactive waste stored there and fumes coming from an underground fire at the nearby Bridgeton Landfill. That fire, which has been smoldering since at least 2010, could soon meet the 100,000 tons of WW II era nuclear weapons material lingering at West Lake Landfill.
A Missouri House committee will consider Wednesday a bill that would offer a buyout option for 91 homes in that area. The bipartisan legislation, sponsored by state Rep. Mark Matthieson (R-Maryland Heights) and state Senator Maria Chappelle-Nadal (D-University City), would pay fair market value for those homes.
“The trauma that we saw in Ferguson is very, very, very, very similar to the trauma that we are seeing among residents who live around this landfill. It’s real,” says Chappelle-Nadal.
Both landfills are a few miles from Ferguson.
The Senator, who has gone to great lengths to find ways to help those affected by the contamination, mentions all sorts of health complications that residents have experienced and some who have died from them.
“We have heard some of the saddest stories you could ever imagine,” says Chappelle-Nadal. “Some of those examples are 15 year olds dying of leukemia, ovarian cancer or young eight year olds who have arthritis. The longer we wait, I can absolutely say with certainty there is another child who has asthma. There’s another child who gets a brain tumor. There’s another child who’s ending up with an autoimmune disease that’s very, very rare and caused by radioactive waste.”
The measure, which has passed in the Senate, would cap the state’s cost at $12.5 million.
“No one will get rich off of this program. No one will break the bank at all,” says Chappelle-Nadal. “But, for the first time in a long time, families trapped in dangerous, unsafe and contaminated homes will have a way out.”
Chappelle-Nadal says she is discussing with Senate Budget Committee Chairman Dan Brown (R-Rolla) what the state can afford in a tight $27 billion budget. She thinks the federal government could pay back the state for the buyouts and companies involved in the contamination could also kick in some money.
Matthiesen says nobody has taken action.
“We’ve talked to the EPA. Nothing. We need them to make a final decision on what they are going to do,” says Matthiesen. “But why should they if the state isn’t willing to step up and take care of our own citizens. That’s what this bill does. It’s the state taking care of our citizens and sending a message that we care about the health of our people.”
Matthiesen acknowledges that Missouri is strapped for cash.
“We all know money is hard to come by right now,” says Matthiesen. “But we need to do the right thing.”
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which oversees the radioactive material in the West Lake Landfill, insists that the waste does not pose a public health threat.