In 1942, the U.S. government chose downtown St. Louis as a processing center of uranium for the first atomic bombs. Over the next 25 years, the radioactive waste from this processing center was moved to sites throughout the city’s northern and western suburbs and eventually dumped into the West Lake Landfill in North St. Louis County. But until recently, many residents living near the landfill were unaware the waste had become a ticking time bomb.
Directed by Rebecca Cammisa (the Oscar-nominated HBO documentaries God Is the Bigger Elvis and Which Way Home), the documentary Atomic Homefront exposes the lasting toxic effects nuclear waste can have on communities.
Focusing on a group of moms-turned-advocates in St. Louis and filmed over the course of three years beginning in 2014, Atomic Homefront looks at two communities seeking answers from corporations, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other government agencies. The residents of Bridgeton, Missouri live adjacent to an uncontrolled subsurface fire at the Bridgeton-West Lake Landfill, which is moving towards illegally dumped radioactive waste. In Florissant, Missouri, four miles from the landfill, the neighborhood waterway Coldwater Creek meanders through the suburbs for a 14-mile stretch.
The film spotlights everyday citizens, including moms Dawn Chapman and Karen Nickel, who form the group Just Moms STL and go on to confront the EPA, state regulators and Republic Services, the owner and operator of the landfill.
Though West Lake Landfill was designated a Superfund site in 1990, residents are frustrated to learn that an isolation barrier to keep the fire from the radiation waste is merely a proposal, and has not even been designed years later. The community fears that nothing will keep the fire from reaching the radioactive waste.
Atomic Homefront was directed and produced by Rebecca Cammisa; produced by James B. Freydberg, Larissa Bills; executive producers, Unseen Hand, Bill Benenson & Laurie Benenson, Rose Villaseñor, Adilia Aguilar, Mary Recine, Olivia Negrón. For HBO: senior producer, Sara Bernstein; executive producer, Sheila Nevins.