As an environmental specialist with the Missouri Department of Natural Resources 2007 to 2014, Dan Norris ’05 directed over $1 million of long-term air sampling of the Bridgeton Landfill in St. Louis, Missouri—a long, complicated, and continuing environmental story outlined in the 2018 HBO documentary, “Atomic Homefront.” Filmmakers interviewed Norris, as someone who evaluated the site, lived in the community, and is publically critical of the US Environmental Protection Agency and the State of Missouri for not aggressively addressing this environmental hazard. Norris left the Missouri Department of Natural Resources and is now with the Montana Department of Environmental Quality as an environmental specialist, specializing in investigation and cleanup of hazardous waste sites.
Q. You are a witness for the State of Missouri in a legal case regarding the landfill. Why?
A. In 2013 the State of Missouri filed a lawsuit against owners Republic Services and Bridgeton Landfill. Although the landfill owner has subsequently spent over $170 million on managing issues related to the smoldering fire, the fire still continues to spread. I issued a Notice of Violation to the Bridgeton Landfill in 2012, which can be viewed online, which alleges violations of state environmental laws prohibiting methane migration and air pollution (combustion of trash). The landfill owner did not sit idle during the fire, but the owner was also not receptive to collaborating with the state or trying alternate approaches that the state suggested. All parties failed to provide adequate outreach to the affected community.
Q. Tell me about living near the landfill.
A. I lived in the community to lead the air sampling efforts during part of 2013 when heavy construction caused elevated odors in the community. There were a lot of long days collecting samples and managing data. We had to watch for benzene, carbon monoxide, radiation, and the odors were terrible. On bad days, the odors could be smelled as far as five miles from the landfill. The smell would keep people in their house and would make people want to run the other way. When components failed at the landfill, they failed in a major way. I observed leachate (garbage juice) spills, black contaminated groundwater, and pressurized plastic cover material full of landfill gas. The landfill produced 150,000-300,000 gallons of this garbage juice each day. The volume was so significant and the leachate was so potent, the landfill constructed a seven-mile-long pipeline to convey the leachate to the downtown St. Louis wastewater treatment plant.
Q. Why did you leave to go work in Montana?
A. The primary reason was the state’s handling of the Bridgeton Landfill fire. In my opinion, the regulatory agencies Missouri DNR and US EPA failed to provide any meaningful outreach and communication with the citizens of the community, while taking a very passive role and allowing landfill owners to stay firmly in the driver’s seat. This resulted in a lack of trust between many of those involved. When I left my job with the State of Missouri, I wrote an open letter, which became front-page news in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.