Army Corps confirms radioactive contamination in yards by Coldwater Creek via St. Louis Post-Dispatch

HAZELWOOD • Officials in charge of cleaning up pollution left over from the country’s early nuclear weapons program say there’s radioactive contamination in several residential yards that back up to Coldwater Creek.

The Army Corps of Engineers confirmed Wednesday that it had discovered what it described as “low-level” radioactive contamination from thorium 230, a uranium decay product. It has likely been on the properties for decades, carried by a creek that flows through several miles of subdivisions in north St. Louis County.

It is the first time in more than 15 years of Corps-directed cleanups in the region that the government has confirmed radioactive contamination on residential properties.


Since 2013, the Corps has been remediating Coldwater Creek, which was contaminated with uranium processing waste stored at sites near Lambert-St. Louis International Airport. The Corps is also cleaning up a site north of downtown St. Louis where Mallinckrodt, a former chemical company that now makes medical products, used to process uranium for the Manhattan Project and the early nuclear program.

“We have not had confirmation that we actually had radionuclides in people’s backyards,” said Jenell Wright, who lived in the area near the creek for almost 30 years and sits on a panel overseeing the cleanup. “This is massive.”

But she and others who have pushed for more testing along the creek’s floodplain aren’t surprised.


Wright noted that when Coldwater Creek flooded while she was growing up, it would cause sewer backups into people’s basements, and she suspects some contamination could have entered there. She also noted that development in the area may have moved contamination beyond the creek’s floodplain.

She and others have begun tracking cancer rates in former residents, and she said two of her friends recently died. One was in his 40s.

All of this work was not in the original FUSRAP cleanup budget, Wright said. As the Corps continues to test more property along the creek and follow the trail of radiation, she said Congress needs to step up with more funding. The Corps is doing a good job, she said, but a backlog of cleanup projects could continue to grow without the budget.

“We have a huge problem,” she said. “They understand they’re at the tip of the iceberg.”

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