Living by the Landfill: A Community Funder Steps in to Help Missourians Cope with Toxic Air



Even with recycling becoming easier and more convenient in many communities, there are still 3,091 active landfills in the U.S. that serve as dumping grounds for our waste. Not only are landfills—like the Bridgeton Landfill in Missouri—smelly and an eyesore, they’re also harming the health of people who live nearby. The good news is that this problem has been been seized upon by philanthropy and foundations seeking to step up and support the health, safety, and environment for local residents.

Last year, Missouri’s Bridgeton Landfill agreed to pay $16 million to settle a lawsuit for compensation and restitution to benefit the communities within a four-mile radius of the landfill. According to a Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services report, odors from the landfill have caused respiratory issues and aggravated chronic conditions of people who live and work nearby. When this settlement was made, one of the terms was that a $12.5 million Bridgeton Landfill Community Project Fund would be created to allocate funds back into the affected neighborhoods. The local community foundation, the St. Louis Community Foundation (SLCF), administers this fund and recently awarded its first grants through it.

According to the terms of the settlement, all Bridgeton Landfill Community Project funds must promote health, safety, and the environment surrounding the landfill site. This translates into grants for physical health, behavioral health, healthy living, environmental cleanup, community greening, basic needs, youth services, and public safety. The St. Louis Community Foundation has four years to distribute the money from this landfill fund, and it recently announced its first grants, totaling $3 million.

This first giving cycle focused on two key issues: public safety and mental health. SLCF awarded a total of $1.26 million to the public safety efforts of the Pattonville Fire Protection District and St. Louis County Local Emergency Planning Committee to pay for an industrial pumper truck, two-way radios, and emergency kits. Meanwhile, the community foundation distributed over $1.7 million to mental health and substance abuse efforts to local groups, including Behavioral Health Network, St. Louis Crisis Nursery, and Youth in Need. SLCF committed an additional $70,000 in small grants to the public health initiatives of Loaves and Fishes for St. Louis, Bridgeway Elementary School, and other community organizations.

Future landfill fund grants will target healthcare, public safety, and community greening. Local organizations can download the application materials for the Bridgeton Landfill Community Project Fund on SLCF’s website. Yet this landfill fund is just one of nearly 700 charitable funds that the St. Louis Community Foundation administers. Last year, the foundation distributed almost $90 million to nonprofits and has assets of approximately $500 million.