Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster filed a lawsuit against the operators of a St. Louis County landfill where two years of underground smoldering is starting to emit a foul smell, alleging violations of state environmental laws.
The smell coming from the 52-acre Bridgeton Sanitary Landfill, near Lambert Airport, has drawn complaints from nearby homeowners, businesses, hospitals and senior care centers. The suit against Republic Services Inc. asks that the company bear the costs of cleanup, remediation and monitoring, which Koster estimated could exceed $10 million.
Underground smoldering has been occurring at the site for at least two years. Koster calls it a fire and said it was expanding at a rate of about 2 feet per month for most of that time. But in January, he said, the fire began expanding at 25 feet per month. There was no indication that the smoldering could spread beyond the landfill, which has an area of more than 2 million square feet.
The landfill operators do not characterize what’s happening underground as a fire, but rather a “heat-producing reaction” that is causing trash to decompose at an accelerated rate. The landfill website notes that it can’t be characterized as a fire because “for a fire to occur, there needs to be oxygen and at this depth in the landfill, no oxygen is present.”
Regardless, residents have described the smell as horrific, even debilitating. Some worry about the health consequences. Missouri Department of Natural Resources director Sara Parker Pauley sent a letter to the attorney general’s office on Thursday seeking legal action.
“There’s no doubt the situation up there is disturbing and terrible,” Koster said at a news conference in St. Louis. “And anybody living around that site has a right to complain.”
The landfill said in a statement Wednesday that it is already working with Koster “as we share the same goal – to dramatically reduce the odor from the landfill while protecting nearby residents and employees, and ensuring compliance with environmental regulations.”
The landfill’s website says that 40 wells will be added by April 15. The wells remove odor-causing gas, which is then taken to a processing facility to be destroyed. After that, a cap will be installed over the troubled area of the landfill.
The lawsuit cites additional concerns beyond the fire and smell. It claims that hazardous waste is flowing from the landfill into a nearby stream. The suit claims that since January the landfill has generated about 150,000 gallons of the waste, liquid landfill leachate, each day.
The lawsuit also alleges that DNR air monitoring shows the landfill is emitting levels of acetaldehyde and benzene that exceed federal standards, posing a potential threat to health and the environment.
Koster said Republic has already spent $65 million trying to solve the problem. Landfill spokeswoman Anne Marie Moy declined comment.
The landfill is not taking new waste. World War II-era radioactive waste is also stored there, but Koster said it is not believed to be endangered by the smoldering.