Rising landfill temperatures threatening underground nuclear waste


by Ray Preston / News 4


Posted on October 29, 2012 at 5:52 PM

Updated Monday, Oct 29 at 6:00 PM

BRIDGETON, Mo (KMOV.com) -- News 4 viewers reported a terrible smell coming from a landfill in Bridgeton. After investigation it seems the problem may be more than just a foul odor.

The Pattonville Fire Department says what’s causing the smell is an underground problem that’s growing and there are worries it may reach radioactive waste buried nearby.

The landfill is on St. Charles Rock Road, west of Lambert Airport. It’s operated by Republic Services, a company based in Phoenix.

Residents complained not only about a terrible odor, but also that there was something in the air that burned their eyes, causing them headaches.

What’s happening underground at the Bridgeton landfill is known as “subsurface oxidation.” It means that what’s below the surface is decomposing, which creates heat.

Republic has been drilling wells to allow gases and vapors to escape, but the Pattonville Fire Department says temperature readings on the well-heads show a dramatic increase over a three-month period.

And it’s unclear just what is churning below the surface.

“The things that we would be concerned with would be production of toxic gasses or flammable gasses,” said Assistant Chief Matt LaVanchy.

Some say it’s an eclectic concoction made up of everything from household garbage to industrial chemicals to jet fuel that was dumped there years ago.

The landfill is in an old limestone quarry, which means it’s surrounded by a natural barrier.

The heat and vapors are currently growing and moving southwest, but LaVanchy says he’s concerned because on the north end of the landfill there is radioactive waste and there is nothing to act as a barrier.