For six years, an underground garbage fire has been steadily burning outside of Saint Louis, Missouri, right next to a landfill filled with nuclear waste buried in the mid-’70s. So why hasn’t anyone managed to extinguish it yet?
The AP reports that the EPA handed down a series of measures designed to stem the fire, including temperature monitors, cooling loops and a giant smothering tarp. Those new measures aren’t being instituted because the fire has spread closer to the nearby waste site, officials said. Rather, the measures are merely to make sure it doesn’t.
But what’s going on with this fire, and why isn’t it just being put out? The problem is that no one seems to have a plan for how to extinguish it. In fact, nobody even knows what’s causing the fire.
The state of Missouri sued the burning landfill owners, Republic Services, three years ago, but the case is stuck in court. Even the EPA’s newest measures still wouldn’t actually put out the fire. They would merely keep it from spreading. What happens if the fire does spread, despite the efforts?
The answer is unclear. Last year, EPA officials told residents that even if the fire did spread to the waste, it was unlikely to be dangerous. However, agency scientists also issued a report admitting that they didn’t really know exactly what else was buried along with the nuclear waste all those decades ago.
Since no one seems to have had any luck in figuring out how to put out the fire yet, the idea of just digging up and moving the waste has also been floated. The EPA’s decision about whether it will actually do that, however, isn’t set to come down for another year. So for now, the fire continues to burn.
Image: A view of the landfill burning in February 2014 / Kqueirolomce