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Radioactive Hot Spot Prompts Researchers’ Concerns via the Wall Street Journal

Researchers contend contamination could pose risk to homes near St. Louis; officials say waste is contained

However, a group of private researchers funded by an environmental activist, including a former senior official of the Clinton administration’s Energy Department, is challenging those assurances.

They say a recent sampling they did suggests contamination from the radioactive hot spot is entering a nearby stream, known as Coldwater Creek, and then traveling downstream into the yards of homes.

The contamination involves thorium, a radioactive material that can increase a person’s risks for certain cancers if it gets inside the body, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

[…]

TThe Corps has found radioactive contamination in the yards of several homes along Coldwater Creek. Agency officials said they believe the contamination was carried by the creek from sites other than the one the Kaltofen group is concerned about. The Corps said it cleaned up those other sites, which are in a commercial-industrial area upstream from the residential properties.

Though officials have said the levels of residential contamination, which was found 6 inches or more underground, don’t pose immediate health threats, they plan to clean up those locations as well. They have told residents to avoid digging in or otherwise disturbing the soil.

Jenell Wright, who grew up in a Coldwater Creek neighborhood, has been a leader in a citizens’ effort to gather information about cases of cancer and other diseases possibly linked to radiation in the area. The effort has helped push government officials to begin a health assessment.

Though the Kaltofen group hasn’t contacted Ms. Wright about its findings, she said she is concerned about possible continuing sources of contamination scattered around the St. Louis region.

The dispute over the hot spot is part of a larger debate nationally over the radioactive legacy of the nuclear-weapons program. With dozens of locations being cleaned up, one question is how much contamination can safely be left behind. In many of these sites, cleanup issues involve how accessible particular locations are to the public and what future uses might be.

Some of the St. Louis weapons-related waste was stored for a time in piles above ground. Portions of it were eventually dumped in a landfill in the area, where heated arguments continue over what to do with it. Some waste simply fell off trucks and railcars as it was being transported.

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