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EPA says air quality at Bridgeton landfill similar to rest of the St. Louis area

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ST. LOUIS — No matter how bad the smell, the air quality around a troubled St. Louis-area landfill is similar to the rest of the region, officials with the Environmental Protection Agency said Tuesday.

The EPA's Region 7 released data from air quality monitoring at five stations near Bridgeton Landfill. Underground smoldering at the landfill often causes an odor so strong that nearby residents are forced to stay inside.

Monitors for seven months checked for air radiation and things such as sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide and hydrogen sulfide.

Region 7 Administrator Karl Brooks acknowledged the odor problem affects quality of life in the Bridgeton area, but said air quality test results "are typical of what you would find in the environment elsewhere in St. Louis."

That's no ringing endorsement because the region has been subject to stricter pollution controls for several years due to substandard air quality. Still, Brooks said it is an indication that "there are no releases of hazardous contaminants from the landfill ..."

Ed Smith, safe energy director for the Missouri Coalition for the Environment, said the testing fails to address concerns about exposure that extends over a period of several years. He said the underground smoldering has gone on for four years already, and likely will last at least two or three more.

"What happens to people who are exposed to long-term low-level contaminants from this landfill?" he asked. "That has not been answered by the state of Missouri nor has it been addressed by the Environmental Protection Agency."

In addition to the smell, the underground smoldering is causing concern because it is near the adjacent West Lake Landfill, where nuclear waste was illegally dumped more than four decades ago.

The EPA is charged with monitoring the landfill site, and coming up with a remediation plan for the nuclear waste. The agency has said there is no indication the smoldering is getting closer to the nuclear waste, though plans are in place for a barrier to make sure they don't meet. Construction still is several months away.

Republic Services, owner of the site, is spending millions on both the barrier project and an effort to bring the odor problem under control.

The EPA also tested drainage areas at a ballpark complex near the landfill site last year, and found no public health risk.

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