Here's the long post I put on Facebook today. Its mostly a lot of Fallout 101 for people not in ZS:
Hey friends: Lets talk about radiation. Specifically, let's talk about West Lake Landfill and how it might affect you. No tl;dr here, because this is complex subject matter. So buckle up and put your learning hats on if you're in, and I'll post a funny picture of my dog in a minute if you're out.
Preface: I don't want to talk about the politics or economics of whether or not West Lake Landfill should have nuclear waste in it, or whether EPA should have removed it instead of capping it in-place, or whether Republic Services has done a shitty job of handling either the waste or the fire. That's not the point of this post. This post is about dealing with what could maybe happen, what the hazards are, and what steps are prudent to mitigate the risks involved in the situation.
In case you havent been paying attention, there is a giant landfill up in Bridgeton that has been a literal demonstration of the metaphorical garbage fire that is Saint Louis. It is an underground, slow-burning landfill fire that has been slowly approaching a special reserved area of the landfill that has a lot of low-level nuclear waste (lots of contaminated dirt) from the Manhattan Project.
It is a Superfund site, but the best remediation/cleanup plan for it was determined to be "cover it up with more dirt and leave it the hell alone". This would have been a decent plan, (more on that later) except for the subsequent underground fire. If and when this underground fire reaches the radioactive section of the landfill, it will almost certainly Become A Serious Problem.
The danger here is that if the fire reaches the radioactive material, it will begin to rise up into the air, either directly as combustion products, or attached to smoke and soot particles that can escape from the ground. There have been several instances in the recent past where the smoke from the fire has reached the surface and blown in the wind. The term used for radioactive particles in the air is conventionally called nuclear fallout. Yes, that fallout.
General estimates for where this fallout will go are in the range of 15 miles to the east of the landfill, but there's not a lot of confidence in that direction because it's based on what direction the wind is blowing. On average though, we're probably talking about 15 miles to the east before the fallout might settle out of the air. A good rule of thumb to follow is that if you've ever smelled the landfill fire before, you're going to get some fallout if any fallout is blowing in the wind. That said, this information is mostly relevant for my friends who live in the western/northern suburbs of Saint Louis County, northern St. Louis City, and the northern parts of the Metro East, with a lesser possibility of being applicable to St. Charles or points further south throughout St. Louis County and City.
Now, here's some good news: The main radioactive elements present in the landfill are Uranium and Thorium. Both of these elements are pretty close to a best-case scenario for fallout, because they're pretty weak. Both elements decay into a series of other elements before finally reaching their stable state, Lead. But the entire decay chain involves the release alpha and beta particles, without any gammas. The * really * good news is that neither alphas or betas will generally penetrate your skin, so the main risk of receiving a radiation dose is ingestion or inhalation. A dust mask will keep it out of your nose and mouth, and goggles will keep it out of your eyes. If you're merely exposed to this fallout without getting any inside your body, a cool shower will do a solid job of removing it.
So lets talk about what to do if this happens. There will be a lot of official instructions, but they're all going to basically come from the old Civil Defense nuclear war playbook. Which is fine, people have spent half a century worrying about this stuff. But you should get ready for it now so you arent freaking out about it later. In general, "what to do" falls into 2 categories: 'Shelter in place' aka bugging-in, or 'evacuate' aka bugging-out.
If the sirens ever start blaring because there is fallout in the air, and your home is in the affected area, you'll get a good chance to use that stupid duct tape and plastic sheeting that the Department of Homeland Security told you to buy after 9/11. You'll want to tape up the interior of your windows and doors to minimize the amount of particulates that can make their way inside your house. Tape up any kitchen and bathroom exhaust vents while you're at it. Don't worry, you wont suffocate, your house is not airtight. The goal to reduce the amount of dust and smoke that makes its way inside. Neither alpha nor beta particles will penetrate a wall or a roof into your home.
If you decide to ride it out at home, plan on spending as much time inside as is humanly possible. You don't need a moon suit to be safe outside in an alpha/beta environment, but you should have a good-fitting dust mask and covering your hair at an absolute minimum, and limit your exposure to the bare minimum. You'd want to decontaminate yourself before coming back inside, to avoid bringing radioactive material inside your exterior barriers. This means stripping down and hosing yourself off before re-entering, and leaving your clothes outside. You should probably plan on letting your dogs poo in the house, unfortunately.
Hopefully you have enough non-perishable food and water in the house to avoid traveling for the duration of the problem. (Pro-tip: bottled water is going to get real popular after the sirens go off, so stock up now. It's cheap). Water may or may not be contaminated, but it would be very dilute even if it were. It would be safe to wash with and to use in the toilet, but if the news says its not safe to drink, don't drink it. Keep a close eye and ear on the news, for updates on the situation regarding when its safe enough to go back to normal.
If you work in the affected area, or are driving through the affected area, you probably don't want to be stuck at work for a couple weeks, and will want to GTFO for home. So do what you do every time you're on I-270 and you can smell the landfill: Set your car's cabin vent to Recirculate and turn off the fan, to keep from drawing in more outside air. If your car is new and has a cabin air filter, you may want to leave the fan on at a low speed to gradually pull the particles out of the air. If you have a dust mask in the glove box, now would be a good time to put it on. Don't dawdle and get to wherever you're going. When you get there, make sure to be a good houseguest and decontaminate yourself before entering. I hope you brought extra clothes, or you'll end up looking like Vincent and Jules at the end of Pulp Fiction.
Speaking of clothes, you should have a bug-out bag handy at home, in case you decide that you'd rather live normally at someone else's place instead of pretending you survived WW3 at home.
This bag should have at a minimum:
* A dust mask
* some close-fitting eye protection
* a hat
* a couple changes of clothes
* some food in case you get hungry and don't feel like stopping at the drive-thru.
* any medications you need to stay sane and/or alive
* some cash money
* a small transistor radio
* a phone charger
* contact information for friends/family
* critical documents related to your house/dwelling like a homeowners policy number and contact info for your insurance agent, and some way you can prove you live where you live, to get past the police when you come back home like a spare ID or a utility bill.
And the MOST important thing you should have is an agreed-upon plan of where you're going to go that you've discussed in advance.
So, in summary (haha, just kidding there *was* a tl;dr!), you should have a plan for what to do in the events that you live within the affected area, are passing through the effected area, or are going to leave the affected area. If you're going to stay in the area, you should have a basic ability to limit the ability of dust and smoke to enter your dwelling, via sealing doors and windows and decontaminating yourself prior to re-enty. You should plan on remaining indoors whenever possible, and protect your eyes and airway when outside in the fallout area. You should listen to the radio and watch TV for emergency instructions.
If you are leaving the area, to head to a friends house outside the affected area you should have a pre-prepared emergency bag with enough stuff to get you through a few days, including critical medications, along with home-related documents.
What happens if you don't do any of this shit? I don't think the radiation hazard will be enough to cause radiation sickness or death due to acute exposure, but you could expect to see an elevated health risk and the population would see and aggregate reduced longevity in proportion to their internal exposure.
If there's any desire to see sources for any of the material covered in this excruciatingly long post, let me know in the comments and I'll get you some links.
Get safe and stay safe.
MF'N TEAM LEADER
"Some people think that the best way to stop the leopard is to cut the horns off the gazelle. This, my friends, is insane."