By Eric Crunden
But even in areas that managed to avoid the worst of the damage, local experts are worried about a range of environmental hazards — from drinking water to Superfund sites — that pose a serious threat to public health. With flooding predicted to worsen throughout the region due to climate change, those risks won’t dissipate when these floodwaters recede.
“We have radioactive waste in our floodplain in Bridgeton,” Heather Navarro, executive director of the Missouri Coalition for the Environment (MCE), told ThinkProgress. “There’s coal ash in our floodplains as well as wastewater treatment plants. [And] many farms spread excessive amounts of manure and this waste gets swept away, along with other chemicals on farm fields and even livestock.”
The flooding began three weeks ago, after a “bomb cyclone” hit the region and unleashed a torrent of snow, which then melted. Several states along the upper stretch of the Missouri River took a major hit; in Nebraska, entire towns were isolated by the flooding. Native communities on reservations have struggled to access food and water, while farms across the area have suffered massive livestock loss along with ruined harvests.
Also on Smith’s mind is the closed West Lake Landfill, a Superfund site in Bridgeton, Missouri. The unlined, mixed-waste landfill has been shown to contain radioactive waste. And while flooding hasn’t impacted that area at present, Smith worries about long-term ramifications, like increased risk of contamination.
“With each passing flood, there is a flushing effect. Goes up, comes down, goes up… [it’s] going to impact the radioactive material that the EPA chooses to leave at the site,” he said.