Dumpster Fire

Radioactive "Osxacan Crab", Jolanda Rios Vasquez,2000

Radioactive “Osxacan Crab”, Jolanda Rios Vasquez,2000

Well actually, it’s more of a whole dump fire than just a single dumpster fire. I’m speaking of the West Lake Landfill fire. This landfill and its fire have been burning for years, but last week its notoriety went up a notch. Four neighboring school districts sent a letter home to parents about their emergency plans that would be implemented, in the event that this fire got out of control. Some would say that this fire has been out of control for years. Landfill fires are not that uncommon, their pressure and heat frequently ignite the methane gas given off by decaying garbage. What has everyone all concerned about this fire is that it seems to be spreading towards its neighbor, which is buried radioactive waste leftover from the Manhattan Project.

This is one of Saint Louis’s dirty little secrets. During World War II uranium enrichment was performed here to produce the first atom bombs. A practice that continued in the Cold War. Back then nuclear waste was just dumped anywhere. We have two Superfund sites to show for this practice and dozens of other sites like this one that have been just sitting there. The softball field that I used to play on is one of these other sites. I am so glad now that I refused to slide then.

Except that they haven’t been just sitting there. The buried radioactive waste is seeping into the ground water and is spreading. So too is the West Lake Landfill fire, which touched off the latest round of concern. The fire is apparently heading towards the radioactive waste. We were talking about this at work yesterday. This flaming landfill, located in West County, adjoins I-70 and depending upon the wind’s direction its smell can be smelt by passing motorists. Some try to hold their breath as they drive pass, but this stretch of highway is frequently backed up during rush hour and on those days it is not possible to hold your breath that long.

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