In North Saint Louis County, Missouri, in the City of Bridgeton, there is a ticking time bomb in the form of several contiguous landfills which contain radioactive waste and all the “daughter products” associated with weapons-grade uranium processing. Most notably, the site in question, the West Lake landfill, has the largest concentration in the nation of one of these highly dangerous daughter products.
In a 2013 report entitled, The West Lake Landfill: A Radioactive Legacy of the Nuclear Arms Race, Robert Alvarez states, “Of significance is the fact that the largest estimated amount of Thorium-230, a long-lived, highly radiotoxic element, is present at West Lake — more than any other U.S. nuclear weapons storage or disposal site.”
As the recipient of 21 honorary doctoral degrees for her work on the health consequences of exposure to nuclear material including the disasters at Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima, Caldicott is one of the world’s most-respected experts on the topic. With regard to the West Lake site, she concluded that ongoing health dangers demand that, “the [West Lake] site needs to be dealt with immediately. It needs to be cleaned-up this year.”
On Friday, Dr. Caldicott spoke with Just Moms STL and agreed to advise on their situation, help broaden awareness of the site’s dangers, and more importantly, coerce Federal action to clean it up and deliver safety to nearby residents and region.
During the Second World War, the race was on to develop the first working nuclear weapons, and following a letter written by Albert Einstein to President Roosevelt warning of the growing capacity for Nazi Germany to acquire nuclear weapons technology, the Manhattan Project was launched. Its goal was to produce the first A-bomb and to do it before Hitler did. It was a matter of winning the war and some would say the research, uranium refining, and building of America’s first atomic weapons was conducted in a reckless manner. Throughout the early Cold War years, these practices continued on in much the same way.
For security reasons, the Manhattan Project was decentralized with disparate communities across the nation playing very distinct roles. Workers and even managers were totally in the dark about the ultimate purpose of the secret project. In St. Louis, Mallinckrodt Chemical Works was charged with refining the purest uranium ore then available and by 1958 had processed approximately 50,000 tons.
As mentioned, workers in this space suffered immeasurably and there are many documented cases of cancers and deaths caused by exposure to radioactive material. For example, Caldicott estimates, “between one-fifth and one-half of uranium miners in North America have died and are continuing to die of lung cancer.”
The refining process created thousands of tons of waste which was initially stored at the airport and eventually deposited directly on the ground at the “Latty Avenue” property in Hazelwood, Mo., a suburb of St. Louis. Subsequently, portions of this material was sold to Cotter Corporation and 12-18 inches of Latty Avenue top-soil was transported to West Lake landfill under the deceptive rubric “clean-fill.”
This misrepresented dirt was neither clean nor clear as Alvarez explains, “The top soil at the Latty Avenue site contained high levels of long-lived uranium decay products, after, the removal of a reported 39,000 tons of top soil over a wide area were mixed with the remaining wastes disposed at West Lake. Despite this evidence, how much of the other wastes that were sent to the West Lake landfill remains unaddressed.”
The history of who owned the material after Mallinckrodt Chemical Works, and where and when it was transported, is complex and convoluted. But today, after thousands of hours of research by an inspirational group of St. Louis mothers and activists named Just Moms STL, the documents collected have started to fill in the picture. Sadly, what’s been emerging is more harrowing than ever.
Dawn Chapman, one of the lead organizers for Just Moms STL, observed, “These people are dying from ‘friendly fire,’ if you will, and all over St. Louis you have children laying in coffins…those children, in essence, are in many ways not unlike the victims of WWII.”
It’s about time to capture what was left behind and take care of our own.
Read more at Radioactive site continues to plague St. Louis residents and region