Activists Shut Down Westlake Landfill

Demand cleanup of radioactive waste from Manhattan Project

By: Casey Stinemetz, Veterans For Peace.

ST. LOUIS, MO – On Friday morning, nine activists locked down in front of the Westlake/Bridgeton Landfill outside of St. Louis, MO. Using concrete-filled trashcans, each weighing nearly 500 lbs., they blocked two entrances to the Westlake Landfill for more than eight hours. The nonviolent direct action is part of an ongoing campaign, demanding the clean up of the illegally dumped radioactive waste that remains. Republic Services, the operator of the landfill, refuses to allow the proper clean up of the site.

The Westlake Landfill is home to tons of radioactive waste from the Manhattan Project, the U.S. military program created in 1942 to develop the atomic bombs. Two of these bombs, dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, brutally killed at least 250,000 Japanese in WWII, many of which were civilians. In 1973, 8,700 tons of leached barium sulfate residue was combined with topsoil and illegally dumped at the West Lake site. For generations, the waste has been poisoning St. Louis families. In 1990, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency listed the site on the National Priorities list as a superfund site; yet clean up of the site remains a distant goal without an action plan.

Additionally, an underground fire, which has been burning for years at the landfill, is moving closer to the waste. When the fire reaches the waste, some experts believe it will create a massive radioactive explosion. In preparation, St. Louis County has issued a regional evacuation plan in the “event of a catastrophic event at the West Lake Landfill.”

Community members and activists have been organizing in attempts to clean up the site, demanding that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Formerly Utilized Sites Remedial Action Program [FUSRAP] take over the site and cleanup. There are two bills that have been introduced, S2306 and HR4100, which will require the Secretary of Army to undertake remediation oversight of the landfill.

One local group, Just Moms STL states on their website that “instead of paying lobbyists to keep us trapped, we ask that Republic Services become part of the solution. We demand that our government put its full weight behind our communities—its constituents—and ask that the United Nations monitor a successful resolution to this environmental and social crisis.“

As Trump and his administration call for an expanded military budget, many local communities around the country continue to suffer from the consequences of waging past wars. In fact, nearly 900 of EPA’s approximately 1,300 Superfund sites are abandoned military bases, facilities or military industrial manufacturing and testing sites. We must demand accountability and recognize the mistakes of the past. We have to acknowledge the connections between environmental destruction, public health, and militarism. More military spending is not the answer.

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Activists lock down outside the gate of the Westlake Landfill, closing two entrances

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