The Rams former practice field is perched precariously on the edge of an uncontrolled nuclear waste dump.
Under the terms of its agreement with the St. Louis Regional Sports Authority, the newly relocated Los Angeles Rams have the opportunity to buy the football team’s former 27-acre practice facility in Earth City for $1. Late last month, the sports authority went to court to keep the land grab from happening. The property once had an assessed value of $19 million.
But its current value is likely far less.
That’s because Rams Park is directly adjacent to the West Lake Landfill Superfund site. A portion of that site contains an underground fire that is getting closer to radioactive waste that was dumped there illegally in 1973. The Missouri Department of Natural Resources and EPA have been watching this slow burn occur for five years and haven’t taken steps to deal with it yet. As a result, the toxic stench at the site has been besieging nearby residents for just as long.
There is another dilemma at West Lake, however, which is the opposite of fire. Chemical and radioactive waste continues to seep into the groundwater. The location of the landfill makes the situation more dire because it sits in the Missouri River floodplain several miles from the confluence with the Mississippi, which supplies water to the city of St. Louis.
Surface water is no less a concern. The training facility is downhill from the landfill. Testing conducted in 1991 found radioactive contamination in Earth City. The findings of that report were later disputed, leaving the question unresolved.
Last week, the EPA admitted what it had already determined years ago. Radioactive thorium has escaped the confines of the Superfund site at another location. The migration is on the perimeter of the landfill in the vicinity of one of the hundreds of businesses in Earth City.
The development, which is protected by a 2.6 mile levee that is overseen by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, is comprised of four separate business parks totaling more than 1,800 acres. An estimated 22,000 people work here. The business conducted in Earth City drives a sizable chunk of North St. Louis County’s economy. Its market value is $1.2 billion.
With more than a billion dollars on the line, real estate and business interests would probably prefer to forget about this mess, to act like nothing is wrong. They’ve been denying the problem for a long time. It’s like a sickness that nobody wants to admit they have. But it never goes away, and ignoring the growing symptoms only makes matters worse.
Wealthy landowners, lords of the local press, powerful corporations, revenue hungry governments , influential private and public institutions — all have a stake in Earth City and its future. That future is at best uncertain.
The satellite images of Earth City resemble Venice. Canals crisscross the district, acting as an integral part of the drainage system. Looking down on the backside of the landfill it’s apparent that the sloping ground abuts one of these waterways. The view from on high also shows what appears to be a former cess pool next to the Rams’ former practice field.
The spring rains will soon fall on the Missouri floodplain; and once again rivers will rise, and gravity will cause water to wash inevitably into the canals of Earth City.
The Regional Sports Authority has a piece of real estate it would like to sell you.