Those of us who grew up in Bridgeton knew we were sitting a little more than a mile from a landfill. Most of the time, it didn’t cause us any issues. The landfill had in fact almost no effect on our daily lives. Yet, there would be those few days in the summertime where the miserably humid air actually moved. On those rare occasions that the wind picked up in the normally stagnant St. Louis summer, it sometimes carried a distinct and sweetly putrid smell. It was only when the wind moved from the west, blowing just hard enough to sweep over the Missouri Bottom floodplain and up into the Bridgeton highgrounds. Again, the conditions had to be just right. The smell appeared only on those stupid hot and sticky summer St. Louis days. The kind of days where you could see the fog of humidity discoloring everything in town into a weird yellowish haze. The kind of days where you wondered if you would ever feel dryness again. You, my fellow St. Louisan, know exactly that level of heat and humidity I am talking about. For us in Bridgeton, on a dank summer day, the wind would carry a fragrance that would make you briefly stop and wonder what Earthly thing could possibly produce such a sickly scent before continuing on with your greater misery about the humidity as you unconsciously fan your shirt away from your skin.
We all knew the smell came from the landfill. It didn’t happen often enough to warrant a laundry list of complaints. The humid weather was more than enough for us to edure. Complaining about the occasional whiff of nasty air seemed a minor detail for stubborn, working and middle class North County residents who prided themselves on surviving brutal summers in St. Louis.
I didn’t know there was anything radioactive there. Neither did anyone in my family. Nor did we know it was a Superfund site until the lawsuits filed by remaining Bridgeton residents over the smell.
The landfill has caught an underground fire and releasing noxious odors that make the putrid odors we endured seem like a brief run through the mall perfume counter. This has become a health and environmental disaster for those in Bridgeton who were not affected by the Lambert Expansion project. Those remaining individuals have already been through enough by having their community dissected and disoriented over the years of Lambert’s encroachment. Now, they face the reality that they are in proximity to radioactive waste. The smell reminds them that there is much more nefarious things decaying in that landfill than annoying odors.
So many questions. How contained is the radioactive waste that exists in the West Lake site? Did any of it seep into the soil in the years Carrollton existed? Did the landfill’s radioactive waste seep and contaminate our drinking water, which came from a facility not too far from the site? How did we live decades without knowing that there was radioactive waste in the West Lake Landfill? How bad is it really now for Bridgeton residents?
It is sad that there are still about 400 homes in Bridgeton that has to deal with yet more bad news. According to the Post, the remaining homes are being compensated for enduring continuing odors caused by the underground landfill fires. The EPA contends that the fires have not yet reached the radioactive waste site. I have to wonder what the scale of this disaster would have been like if the 2,000 houses in the area had remained. I am also deeply concerned about what would happen if the underground fires do reach the contaminated section. I am curious what Geiger counters are reading at in the Missouri Bottoms and in Bridgeton area.
The latest STL Post-Dispatch article is here.