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Health problems, but no increased risk of cancer

Landfill Smell: Health Problems, But No Increased Cancer Risk

The membrane covers hundreds of feet of debris and various pipes that direct leachate to a sewage treatment plant at the Bridgeton landfill on August 28, 2015 in Bridgeton, Missouri. The Missouri Department of Health on Thursday, August 11, 2022, announced the results of the study. a long-term survey of a landfill in suburban St. Louis, which determined that the smell emanating from the landfill did not pose a significant risk to the health of people living near it. The landfill has been a source of concern, not only because of the smell, but also because of the underground smoldering that is within a few hundred yards of the buried nuclear waste. Credit: High Mach/St. Louis Post-Dispatch via AP file

The Missouri Department of Health on Thursday announced the results of a long-term study of the problematic Bridgton landfill in suburban St. Louis, finding that the landfill’s bad smell causes health problems but does not increase the risk of cancer.

According to Don Chapman, co-founder of activist group Just Moms STL, the results of a multi-year investigation by the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services have been confirmed for people living near a landfill in northwest St. Louis County.

“We knew we were dealing with physical symptoms on a daily basis due to exposure to odors,” Chapman said. “We knew it could make the disease worse because that’s what we saw.”

The landfill has been a source of concern for over a decade for several reasons. Weapons-grade uranium processed in St. Louis as part of the Manhattan Project, a World War II program that created the first nuclear weapon, was dumped illegally at the nearby West Lake test site in 1973.

Meanwhile, in 2010, smoldering was discovered underground at the Bridgeton junkyard, just a few hundred yards away, raising concerns about what might happen if the smoldering reached the nuclear waste. The cause of the smoldering remains unknown, but the resulting odor was so pungent that many nearby residents complained of illness and were often forced to stay inside.

The Bridgeton landfill has spent millions of dollars to mitigate the odor, which has been greatly reduced in recent years.

The State Department of Health, in its “final consultation paper,” determined that prior to odor reduction action, inhalation of sulfur-based compounds “may exacerbate existing respiratory and cardiopulmonary conditions” and cause headaches, nausea, and fatigue. Children, the elderly, and people with chronic respiratory conditions such as asthma are most at risk.

“The estimated cancer risks from living and inhaling volatile organic compounds (VOCs) near a landfill are similar to those from living in other urban settings in the United States,” the report said.

Chapman recalled a day in the summer of 2013 when she took her kids to a nearby Target store.

“The smell was so strong that it permeated the inside of the building,” she said. “When we checked, everyone choked. People were throwing up in the parking lot, and moms were trying to put away their food with a bloody nose.”

The smell was so strong that then Attorney General Chris Coster filed a lawsuit in 2013. The lawsuit was settled in 2018 when the landfill’s current and former owners agreed to pay $16 million.

An EPA spokesman declined to comment on Missouri’s report.

An EPA Superfund project to manage nuclear waste was announced in 2018 but has been shelved while the agency refines its cleanup plan, which was originally estimated to cost $205 million. The agency has not released a new schedule.

The landfill owner will bear the cost along with other “responsible parties” that include the US Department of Energy and Exelon Corp. from Chicago, whose subsidiary once owned the uranium processing company Cotter Corp.

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