Radioactive material came to St. Louis in the 1940s with World War II, when a uranium processing plant was constructed downtown. Years later, in the 1970s, radioactive waste from that site was transported to the West Lake Landfill in the St. Louis County suburb of Bridgeton. That material is still impacting St. Louis today, but residents in the surrounding area may be getting a ray of hope in the form of a legal case.
Recently, the HBO documentary “Atomic Homefront” brought national attention to the long struggle of North St. Louis residents to gain accountability for the effects of radioactive waste dumped at West Lake Landfill and Coldwater Creek. Now, several law firms are joining together to file a class-action lawsuit on behalf of those impacted.
The Environmental Protection Agency under Scott Pruitt agreed on Feb. 1 to remove the majority of the radioactive material from the West Lake Landfill over a period of five years, but the lawyers in this case said that is not enough.
“Too little has been done over the last several years, and over the last several decades,” Keane said.
“Atomic Homefront,” which focuses on the efforts of citizen activist group Just Moms STL, documents high incidences of rare cancers in the areas around West Lake Landfill and Coldwater Creek and highlights families who want to move away from the area but, due to the plummeting property values of their homes, cannot afford to.
According to Keane, tests done in preparation for the lawsuits showed high levels of radiation within several homes and businesses. He also said an expert will testify that radioactive materials were built into construction sites in Bridgeton, laid underneath the foundations of homes.
Keane said the effects of the radioactivity could become even more widespread if an underground fire that has been burning at the landfill since at least 2010 reaches the radioactive waste. The chemical reactions caused by this, he said, could lead to contaminated rain which would fall on every part of St. Louis.
After the Russian Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986, radioactive rains spread the impact across the continent and reached as far away as Wales.
“People should be very upset about this,” Keane said. “They should be fired up about this.”
Defendants in the cases include Republic Services, Cutter Corp and other corporations that have handled waste disposal. The attorneys will seek damages for affected residents that could include compensation, home buyouts and relocation, as well as a cleanup of the sites.
Keane said homeowners in the area will receive a flyer explaining the cases and containing a 1-800 number they can call to learn more.