Some weeks ago I attended an event about the West Lake Landfill crisis. Unbeknownst to me, the crisis at West Lake has a large impact on the St. Louis region. I, myself, was clueless about he goings-on in Bridgeton. My sister, a devoted advocate of the Earth, asked me to join her.
The West Lake Landfill located in Bridgeton, Missouri, is divided into sectors. In these sectors, smoldering fires have occurred. Due to the fallout of the Manhattan Project and the additional build-up of waste throughout the years, a landfill fire was caused in 2010. Since then, citizens of Bridgeton and neighboring towns have advocated for environmental justice. The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) has created a barrier between the landfill and radioactive materials (adjacent to the landfill) but this is not enough. Countless families are suffering from the effects of the landfill, from stench to the potential appearance of chronic disease due to contact with toxic materials in water sources.
Lois Gibbs was the guest speaker at the event. Having been witness to the Love Canal crisis (a similar catastrophe that dealt with 20,000 tons of toxic chemicals) Lois understood the importance of community and justice. Her speech was not only incredibly moving, but empowering. She called the West Lake Landfill site the “worst site in the country.” She also stated that the EPA has the power and authority to do anything. If this is true, why is change not so apparent? Like several other environmental cases, a lot of research is required to uncover the truth about environmental disaster–and it is not an easy task. For 35 years Lois worked to rectify the crisis that was going on in her own neighborhood. In order to find the answers, a lot of “digging” is required, which proves just how much we are left in the dark about our own health and safety.
The “unknown factor” is what causes a lot of people to become fearful. Knowing what’s going on in the St. Louis area is imperative to environmental change. Whenever I attend these events, I am reminded of my roots. St. Louis is my home, home to Fontbonne University, where so many of us enjoy the luxury of an abundant campus filled with nature and life. It is easy to get caught up in your own world an it is easy to dismiss the bigger picture. The way I see it, St. Louis is, in fact, a much smaller picture and it is a great place to start. Just by going to events–such as the Nuclear Waste Landfill Fire Teach-In or–you are choosing knowledge over ignorance. It is important to know about the environment and how St. Louis, and all its respective areas, regions, and counties are faring.
Something I remembered from Lois’ speech was her letter-writing tutorial of sorts. She encouraged us to write a letter to “the people in charge” and write honestly. Some people fear that they do not know enough to write letters to authorities, or think that their writing skills are inadequate. On the contrary, writing the best way you know how shows that you are authentic and will make more of an impression.
I urge students to go out and seek opportunities that will increase knowledge and awareness. Stay informed!