I recently joined several others in a tour of the West Lake and Bridgeton landfills to review the publicly expressed concerns about potential radiation and health hazards in the nearby communities emanating from the landfills. My conclusion is that there is no health threat to those communities beyond normal day to day issues existing in most communities, and is based on the following observations:
- The Bridgeton landfill was developed in a very deep quarry.
- The so-called fire in the landfill is at the bottom of the landfill and is actually a smoldering chemical reaction resulting from the heat of compression of the materials above it. Since oxygen is not present at that depth an actual fire cannot occur.
- Because of the depth of the quarry landfill and the smoldering being at the bottom of the material, it would have to climb a very high rock face to escape the Bridgeton landfill and reach the West Lake landfill, and the operator has taken measures to avoid that eventuality.
- The landfills are covered with an impervious material to prevent gases of decomposition from escaping except through the pressure relief wells that have been dug into the landfills. These gases, mainly methane, are currently being flared off and can be captured should the need ever exist.
- If, by some improbable event the reaction should reach the West Lake landfill, the radiation levels that might be released would still be below the normal atmospheric radiation levels that already exist in many locales.
Following the landfill tour I reviewed study reports that have been previously conducted by other experts and agencies, including the EPA and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the federal agency responsible for examining health issues and recommending actions against undue health risks. Those studies reached similar conclusions to what I have expressed. The CDC study concluded that no abnormal risk exists for the nearby communities.
Regardless of the conclusions of experts, it can still be assumed that some people will use the fear of radiation, unsupported by factual data or knowledge of the subject, to stoke concerns among the populace for political or financial gain through legal actions. Such actions almost certainly will be most damaging to the people that the fear spreaders claim to be looking out for, that is the property owners in the nearby communities. Such fears will make housing and other properties more difficult to sell, thus reducing their value.