Radioactive Waste Could Be Killing Residents in Missouri Community via TruthOut

Austin Price


For years, many of these residents have filed lawsuits against Cotter Corporation and Mallinckrodt, the companies responsible for dumping the radioactive nuclear waste in the unlined landfill (a former limestone quarry) as well as in open piles on a field near what’s now the Lambert-St. Louis International Airport. These residents say that this waste has contaminated their homes. Many have sparred in open forums with officials from the Environmental Protection Agency. Others have met personally with EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler. All want answers to an unending list of questions. As Dawn Chapman, co-founder of the grassroots advocacy group Just Moms STL and a mother of three who lives 2 miles from landfill, told me, “The battles at this site never end.”

Meanwhile, the fire burns. Closer and closer to the radioactive waste, like a ticking time bomb. But for many North County residents, that bomb has already gone off, and it’s fallen to members of the community to pressure local and federal officials to help pick up the pieces. Now, federal scientists at the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry are finally starting to admit the mistakes of the nation’s toxic past.


A few years ago, the Journal published a feature “Casualties of War” that chronicled the plight of North St. Louis residents living in the fallout of our country’s nuclear warfare legacy. To recap: about 10 years ago Jenell Wright logged onto Facebook to reconnect with others from her hometown of Florissant along Coldwater Creek, a few miles east of West Lake Landfill, and quickly noticed a trend of cancers and rare diseases among her childhood classmates. She started administering a Facebook page called “Coldwater Creek – Just the facts please” where residents could report their illnesses (the group, still active, now has over 20,000 members), and she eventually helped conduct a survey that geolocated thousands of cases of rare cancers, infertility, genetic mutation, and so on. The resulting map showed a clear outline of the meandering Coldwater Creek.

Tracing the problem upstream led to an easy culprit. After World War II, the St. Louis-based chemical company Mallinckrodt began dumping nuclear refuse left over from processing uranium for the Manhattan Project, the federal research project that gave us nuclear warfare. For two decades, the company shipped a whopping 133,007 tons of radioactive waste to a then-rural site near Coldwater Creek. That site was then bought out and the waste eventually relocated…to its current location at West Lake Landfill, which was designated by the EPA as a Superfund site in 1990. The Army Corps of Engineers also began cleaning up radioactive material at Coldwater Creek.
But well before then, the damage at Coldwater Creek — and West Lake Landfill — had been done. Decades of stormwater runoff, groundwater discharge, and flooding had disseminated traces of uranium-238 and thorium-232 throughout the creek’s watershed, just as the northern suburbs of St. Louis — with its schools, parks, and homes — had started to envelop it.


Meanwhile, as the subsurface smoldering event continues to burn at West Lake Landfill, Chapman and her neighbors continue to put pressure on the EPA and local agencies to affirm the risk the site poses to their community. For years, much of their concerns seemed to fall on deaf ears, until in 2017 when HBO released a feature length documentary called Atomic Homefront showcasing Just Moms STL’s activism at the landfill.

According to Chapman, the documentary put Just Moms STL into national perspective. After the release, she was able to connect with other moms around the country — from Tucson to Minden, West Virginia — who were attempting to dig up facts about the Superfund sites in their own backyards. These connections led Chapman to discover that 53 million people in the United States live within 3 miles of a Superfund site. “And the majority of them don’t have any idea,” she says.

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5 Responses to Radioactive Waste Could Be Killing Residents in Missouri Community via TruthOut

  1. yukimiyamotodepaul says:

    I like to commend the article, taking up this problem. Unfortunately, however, it fails to mention that this is the place where uranium (from Belgian Congo) was enriched to produce the Hiroshima bomb. Because of our negligence of the first apparent human toll (as well as the damage to the environment), people suffer from the consequences over 70 years later.

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