EPA investigation finds baseball fields near contaminated St. Louis-area landfill are safe

Baseball fields that sit near a St. Louis County landfill that is contaminated with Cold War-era nuclear waste are safe for public use, the Environmental Protection Agency said Thursday.

The EPA began an investigation in May after Bridgeton-area residents hired a private firm for radiation testing at Bridgeton Municipal Athletic Complex. Those tests indicated elevated levels of radiation in drainage areas. Concern was strong enough that a youth baseball tournament with nearly 100 teams relocated to another set of fields.

EPA Regional Administrator Karl Brooks said scientific surface gamma radiation screening and soil sampling showed the Bridgeton complex is safe.

"Local residents and visitors can be assured that a thorough scientific survey and review process has confirmed that the public can continue to gather and play at BMAC, and that no additional environmental action is warranted for this facility," Brooks said in a news release.

Bridgeton Mayor Conrad Bowers lauded the report.

"I'm pleased that EPA took this extra step because of some of the concerns expressed by people," Bowers said. "This really should help relieve those concerns."

Ed Smith of the Missouri Coalition for the Environment said he was still reading the results but a preliminary review indicated concerns, such as potentially raised levels of lead. He urged EPA to continue investigating.

EPA said it collected data form 58,000 surface points and collected and analyzed more than 100 surface soil samples from the infield and outfield areas, along with areas outside of the fields. Those samples were compared with ones from two other parks in the St. Louis area. Radiation levels were similar in all three parks, the EPA said.

"The final report noted no detections at levels of concern to human health," the EPA said.

Uranium byproducts were dumped at the landfill in the 1970s. The EPA is determining whether the waste should be dug up and removed or permanently covered.

Concern has grown in recent years because West Lake is adjacent to the Bridgeton Landfill, where underground smoldering is occurring. In addition to a strong odor created by the smolder, nearby residents worry about what could happen if the smoldering reaches the nuclear waste.

The company that owns both landfills is spending millions of dollars to build blockades.

The landfill complex is about a mile from the sprawling baseball complex that includes 11 baseball fields, a soccer field, playground and tennis courts. The complex remained open during the testing.