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Teamsters Get Into Environmental Justice

By Anum Yoon

People often aren’t aware of the harmful chemicals they put down their drains and how those substances might impact the environment. These chemicals can create toxic landfills, presenting a serious problem that is difficult for waste management companies to overcome.

As toxic dumps smolder, the air pollution risks increase. For example, residents near the West Lake landfill in Bridgeton, Missouri, have complained of lung problems caused by toxic fumes from radioactive waste dumped there and related to the U.S. government's Manhattan Project. Some residents have lung cancer thought to be caused by the toxic fumes.

Issues at West Lake

An underground fire has burned at the West Lake landfill for the past five years. Unfortunately, radioactive waste was illegally dumped into the unlined landfill. The longer the fire burns, the more toxic material is released into the air.

Republic Services owns the landfill. Bill Gates is a major shareholder in the company.

Teamsters stand up for citizens

The Brotherhood of Teamsters, founded well over a century ago in 1903, has a membership of over 1.4 million women and men.

Republic Services held its annual shareholders meeting in Phoenix on May 9. Teamsters with the Solid Waste and Recycling Division showed up for the meeting, along with community activist Beth Roach, to protest what the Teamsters believe is mismanagement of landfills as well as an unresponsiveness to the local communities impacted.

This isn’t the first time the Teamsters have attempted to make an impact on the landfill problem. On May 4, the Teamsters lodged a "formal human rights complaint" with the United Nations against Republic Services in regard to the company's radioactive landfills. In that complaint, the union was joined by the two founders of local activist group JustMoms STL and the founder of the Center for Health and Environment Justice.

Their report tackled the ongoing problems with the West Lake Bridgeton landfill. The group continues to call for the company to be accountable for its actions by doing something to rectify the problem and has asked that the government intercede.

What residents can do

Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot that Missouri residents can add to what the Teamsters are already attempting to do. The underground fire is expected to burn for at least several more years.

However, residents across America can prevent similar toxic issues from arising in their own landfills by:

  • Being aware of what is being dumped there

  • Paying attention to public notices and meetings

  • Not putting toxic chemicals down their drains or throwing hazardous waste into the garbage, but disposing of it properly

In fact, toxins that are found in common household cleaning products are America’s third leading cause of poison exposure in adults. Be aware of what is in the products you’re using and how you dispose of them, because waste that ends up in your local landfill today may create serious issues for you and your family tomorrow.

Beth Roach, who lives in a community impacted by Republic's actions, said: "[The company has] already spilled beryllium and who knows whatever else into our water, now Republic wants to get a permit to massively expand toxic coal ash dumping in our community." Roach believes the company has already proven that it isn't capable of handling waste and keeping the community safe.

A possible light at end of the tunnel

Because of activists like Ms. Roach and the Teamsters’ unrelenting efforts to make the public and authorities aware of the issues with these landfills, light has appeared at the end of the tunnel. Missouri's Department of Natural Resources has given Republic until May 16 to submit new closure plans for the West Lake landfill.

While nothing has yet come from the complaint filed with the United Nations, additional action may be required from the company to ensure it is accountable for the impact of the toxic fumes.

Image via: Kara DenizTeamster 

Anum Yoon is a writer who is passionate about personal finance and sustainability. She often looks for ways she can incorporate money management with environmental awareness. You can read her updates on <a href="http://www.currentoncurrency.com>Current on Currency</a>.

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