Coldwater Creek in Missouri is not officially the home of a cancer cluster, but Jennifer Smith begs to differ.
At 41, Smith has already been through a host of medical problems. She had endometriosis as a teen, suffered four miscarriages in her 20s and needed to undergo a complete hysterectomy by age 29. Four years later, she was diagnosed with incurable chronic myelogenous leukemia.
Like many others who grew up in North St. Louis County, Mo., Smith suspects her medical bad luck wasn’t luck at all; she thinks it’s the result of growing up along a creek contaminated by radioactive material – the result of uranium processing during World War II. The creek frequently flooded, bringing its contents into her family’s vegetable garden and flooding her basement bedroom.
At the helm of the group is Janelle Wright, 43, who realized in 2011 that a lot of her childhood friends were dying. The music teacher died of leukemia, she recalled. Her grade school crush had thyroid cancer.
“There were four cases of brain cancer in a six-house radius,” Wright said. “That was really weird.”
So she started to make a list. Then one day she came across a Facebook group started by another old neighbor called “Coldwater Creek — Just the Facts.” Its handful of members seemed to have the same hunch Wright had — that something was odd about the cancer cases. She and about 20 other people joined it right away. The group now has more than 9,000 members.
“Those 20 people immediately had a sixth sense that something was not right,” Wright said, remembering how everyone seemed to be fine at their 20th high school reunion just a few years earlier. “How could things go wrong so fast?”
Then someone learned the Army Corps of Engineers was already tasked with cleaning up radioactive waste that had been there since the 1940s connected with the Manhattan Project. Not only was the government removing contaminated soil, it was dredging the creek for contaminated sediment, according to an official military fact sheet about the cleanup.
Wright had no idea, but radioactivity seemed to explain why it took so long for the cancer cases to crop up. Radiation exposure tends to have delayed health effects. It also explained why they were seeing second generation problems, she said.
So Wright and her group started their own investigation, finding people who’d moved away using social media and asking them to participate in a survey. Ultimately, they found thousands of cases of cancer.
They found 3,300 instances of cancer in all, including 95 brain cancers and 37 appendix cancers, which are considered rare.
Read more at Dispute Over Missouri Cancer Cluster