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Former McDonnell Douglas workers, residents file suit over radiation exposure via St. Louis Public Radio

Three former aircraft workers and seven north St. Louis County residents who say they were exposed to radioactive waste stored near Lambert Airport after World War II, have filed a federal lawsuit against Mallinckrodt and the Cotter Corporation.

They hope to join a larger case, filed in 2012, that represents about 250 plaintiffs who lived or worked near the airport waste site, Coldwater Creek, and another storage site in Hazelwood. Each area has been largely cleaned up by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers after unsafe levels of radioactive elements were found in the soil and water, and some work is ongoing.

“There were a lot of fellow employees that are no longer with us. And I feel that I’m speaking for them,” said the lead plaintiff, 72-year-old Bob Malon, who survived a colon cancer diagnosis in 2004.

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Ken Brennan, the lead attorney on the lawsuit, hopes to consolidate it with ongoing litigation filed in 2012, McClurg et. al v. MI Holdings, Inc. et al. About 250 people who believe their health issues are connected to their exposure to radioactive contamination in north St. Louis County are represented by the consolidated suit, and another 150 have filed similar suits.

“We reconstruct, based on data that’s available, how much radiation was stored at the airport site, how that radiation was then distributed through weather and erosion and wind patterns,” Brennan said.

Brennan estimates a quarter of the plaintiffs are former employees of Boeing or McDonnell Douglas. The majority lived near the airport or along Coldwater Creek. Many plaintiffs, including Malon, were made aware of the litigation by a Facebook group that has tracked cancer and other health issues near Coldwater Creek since 2011, when a group of friends planning a high school reunion realized that many of their classmates had developed cancer or passed away.

“When we determine the extent to which each of our clients was exposed to radiation, we use existing science to demonstrate that their cancers were more likely than not caused by that radiation,” Brennan said.

Mallinckrodt and Cotter officials declined to discuss the case.

In court, Mallinckrodt and the other defendants have filed several motions to dismiss the larger case since 2012. In the latest one, they argue the plaintiffs’ claims are too vague to prove they were exposed to levels of radiation that are higher than federal limits. They also say the plaintiffs waited too long to make their case: Missouri has a five-year statute of limitations for personal injury suits.

“Each claim should be individually addressed so that the scientific data can be properly evaluated. We look forward to the opportunity to present the facts and evidence in court,” Mallinckrodt attorney Dave Erickson wrote in an email.

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