In the St. Louis area, a slow-burning underground fire is close to a vast store of nuclear waste buried in a federal Superfund site. The fire reportedly has been smoldering beneath a nearby landfill since at least 2010. The Washington Post reports that residents are afraid of what may happen if the fire — which is by some accounts as little as 1,500 feet away –reaches the West Lake Landfill in Bridgeton, Mo., a Superfund site filled with decades-old waste from the federal government’s nuclear weapons program. Angry locals also think the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which manages the site, hasn’t done enough to stop the fire.
In December, the EPA announced that it would install a physical barrier in an effort to isolate the nuclear waste. The agency also said that it would put cooling loops and other engineering controls to prevent environmental impacts if the “subsurface smoldering event,” as it’s called, were to reach the waste. An EPA administrator told the Post that the barrier would take a year to build. But residents aren’t comforted by that timetable, and think the government, despite years of warning, has done too little to stave off a possible environmental disaster. A 2014 St. Louis County Emergency Operations Plan, obtained by a local TV station, reveals that local officials feared a “catastrophic event” with “a potential for radioactive fallout to be released in the smoke plume and spread throughout the region.”