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Anti-nuclear activist tours north St. Louis County sites contaminated with radioactive waste via St. Louis Pubic Radio

An internationally recognized anti-nuclear activist and Australian physician said the radioactive contamination in north St. Louis County is “worse than most places” she’s investigated.

Dr. Helen Caldicott toured several local sites Friday afternoon, including: the recently remediated St. Cin Park in Hazelwood; West Lake Landfill Superfund site, which contains radioactive nuclear waste dating back to 1940s and ’50s; and the Bridgeton Landfill, whose underground smoldering has caused concern due its proximity to the waste in West Lake.

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Caldicott, founding president of Physicians for Social Responsibility, whose umbrella parent organization International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War won the Nobel Peace Prize, called the situation “obscene.”

“I’m a pediatrician. Children are extremely sensitive to the toxic and carcinogenic effects of radiation,” she said. “I can’t for the life of me understand why the government …hasn’t removed this material, especially if there’s a fire next to this radioactive waste dump.”

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However, a federal report showed there was no off-site human health risk from the radioactive waste at West Lake Landfill, which is managed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Plans are underway to build a firebreak between the waste and the underground smoldering at Bridgeton Landfill.

That fire could produce some potentially toxic gases, and air sampling done by the company which owns it and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, has occasionally shown some unsafe concentrations of compounds. Residents, however, have complained about the odors and symptoms such as nosebleeds, headaches and aggravated asthma; the state Department of Health and Human Services has recommended “sensitive individuals” stay indoors when odors are strong.

Caldicott also met with a few residents living in the affected neighborhoods, including Mary Oscko. She has lived in a home across the street from St. Cin Park, bordered by the contaminated Coldwater Creek, for 30 years.

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Additionally, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry is conducting a health assessment of residents living along the creek. Meanwhile, a Facebook group started by current and former residents around the creek has collected thousands of illness reports showing hundreds of cases of cancer.

Oscko, who said she has been vocal about the potential health impacts of exposure to contamination, has stage four lung cancer, even though she said she has never smoked. She said she welcomed Caldicott’s expertise.

“We’ve talked about the scientific side of it, and the environmental side of it; now we have a scientist who is a doctor who can talk to us about the health side of it and the human side of it,” she said. “We’re not red dots on a map. We’re faces and we’re human beings. We have lives, we have children and grandchildren, we count.”

Caldicott said Oscko’s case is an example of how exposure to radioactive material, like radon gas, impacts health.

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