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Artist-Led Tours Of Toxic Waste Sites Aim To Reflect On St. Louis’ Contaminated History via St. Louis Public Radio

By ELI CHEN 

Before a group of young adults embarked on a tour of toxic waste sites in St. Louis, artist Allana Ross asked if anyone wanted a respirator. 

Twice a year since 2017, Ross dresses up as a park ranger and invites people to follow her on a “Toxic Mounds Tour” to locations in St. Louis County that have been contaminated by toxic waste. 

Some stops along the tour are sites where federal officials are cleaning up radioactive waste, like Coldwater Creek in Hazelwood. Others, like the Weldon Spring site in St. Charles, which contains nuclear waste, were converted into parks

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Ross’ work has often focused on interpreting the human relationship with the environment. Initially, she wanted to create a map that would help people forage for food within St. Louis’ green spaces. After learning that much of the soil in St. Louis has been contaminated by industry, Ross decided to organize the Toxic Mounds Tours

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The former location of the Times Beach community was the first stop on the tour. The next stops were a former uranium processing site in Berkeley, the Coldwater Creek headwaters, the former suburb of Carrollton, the West Lake Landfill and the Weldon Spring site. 

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Another visitor, Aaron McMullin, said the tour gave her a new perspective on places she’s heard about often, like Coldwater Creek and the West Lake Landfill. 

“I grew up in the area, so it’s a little bizarre to be driving around to these sites that are slightly removed from where, you know, paths that I’ve taken my whole life,” she said. 

McMullin added that the places seem eerily quiet, especially the final stop on the tour, the Weldon Spring site. The former Superfund site contains nuclear waste in a holding cell. 

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At each site, Ross recited the area’s history to a group of 10 people. When they visited Route 66 State Park, for example, she told the story about how a journalist informed a city official of Times Beach that the community had been contaminated with dioxin, a chemical associated with Agent Orange. 

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The former location of the Times Beach community was the first stop on the tour. The next stops were a former uranium processing site in Berkeley, the Coldwater Creek headwaters, the former suburb of Carrollton, the West Lake Landfill and the Weldon Spring site. 

Read more and listen to the program at Artist-Led Tours Of Toxic Waste Sites Aim To Reflect On St. Louis’ Contaminated History

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