[This is the last part of trilogy: the information for the first two are at the end of this article]
In 1973, radioactive waste a private company had bought from the government was illegally dumped at the landfill. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission recommended the waste be removed in 1988, but the company that now owns the land has — with EPA approval — opted for containment as opposed to removal, maintaining that the waste there is low-level when it comes to radioactivity, and not a threat to public health.
But it may not be that simple. Government documents unearthed by residents suggest that the extent of the contamination may be far worse — perhaps at an unprecedented level, some experts say. Following a largely broken or incomplete paper trail, residents and activists have found evidence that there may be soil laced with uranium, thorium and radium buried there.
And there is another problem: the fire. It smolders underneath an adjacent landfill, burning at some 300 degrees and slowly moving toward where the waste is thought to be.
Nobody is quite sure what will happen if the two meet, but locals and the county are preparing for the worst: a nuclear emergency in the middle of St. Louis.
The truth is that nobody is really sure what is buried at the West Lake Landfill, or where — and that’s the problem. The historical record regarding the site is broken, inconsistent, and largely based on hearsay. What is known for certain is that the radioactive waste was disposed of illegally. The private company that bought much of the government’s waste in St. Louis violated its license in 1973 by dumping it there.