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Source:  Bloomberg Businessweek

It was practical considerations that led Dawn and Brian Chapman to Maryland Heights, a modest suburb of St. Louis bound by two interstate highways, several strip malls, an international airport, and the Missouri River.

They found a three-bedroom, one-bathroom, 1,000-square-foot home near good public schools and parks, and a reasonable drive to her parents, for $146,000.

By 2012, after seven years there, the Chapmans had three kids with special needs, and Dawn had given up teaching preschool to stay home with them.

That was when the stench overcame their neighborhood. It wasn’t the usual methane smell from Bridgeton Landfill, about two miles away, that sometimes wafted through.

“It was like rotten dead bodies, and there was a kerosene, chemical odor, too,” says Dawn. “People were gagging.”

That fall the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that the odors were coming from a fire that had been burning 80 feet to 120 feet below ground at the landfill for almost two years and was likely to smolder for many more.

When Dawn Chapman’s family and neighbors began experiencing headaches, nosebleeds, and breathing problems that winter, she contacted the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, which regulates the state’s landfills.

She learned that Bridgeton Landfill was only one part of a 200-acre dumping ground that had been classified as a Superfund site because another part of it, an old landfill known as West Lake, contained radioactive waste from the earliest days of the Atomic Age.

One of the two radiation-riddled areas was contiguous with the Bridgeton section. No one knew how the fire had started in the Bridgeton Landfill or when it would end, but it was slowly moving north, toward the contaminated area.

Read the story at Bloomberg Businessweek. 

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