Cold War Nuclear Weapons Put St. Louis Community At Risk—in 2023 via The Equation (Union of Concerned Scientists)

Chanese A Forté

Current-day residents near St. Louis, Missouri, are living with chronic health conditions and an increased cancer burden due to contamination from uranium mining and processes used in the production of nuclear weapons at the start of the atomic age.

The 19-mile stretch of Coldwater Creek includes areas surrounding the St. Louis Lambert International Airport to the Missouri River. The contamination in the region is from World War II-era processing of uranium by Mallinckrodt Chemical Company upstream, and later by the improper storage of nuclear waste at the airport (a decision made by the Department of Energy).

Impacted community members have fought for decades to receive compensation for the health effects and environmental waste cleanup. 


I was fortunate to chat with Dr. Kim Visintine, a member of Coldwater Creek: Just the Facts Please, to ask her about the work she and others are doing on the ground.  

Dr. Visintine has a background in engineering and physics, a doctorate in nursing, and was successful in getting the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) to study the area around the creek, which confirmed the link between contamination and higher rates of illnesses. 


From our studies, we have seen a trend for illnesses to have been the highest prior to the initiation of cleanup by Formerly Utilized Sites Remedial Action Program (FUSRAP) in the 1990s. Since cleanup was initiated, the illness trend has decreased (as expected). 

Today, for many reasons, the current population is not receiving the same level of exposure as children in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. Which is very good news because contamination has been pushed below the surface and now lies six inches to 20 feet below ground, eliminating chronic ingestion and inhalation.


KV: After completing our survey, we started our cancer maps and went to the Army Corps of Engineers. 

As private citizens, we approached the Army Corps of Engineers FUSRAP program and were able to request testing of the creek, which resulted in additional cleanup (to date, more than $700 million has been spent on cleanup efforts). 

So many people don’t realize this and say the Army Corps of Engineers is not testing or doing their job, and that is not the truth that we lived as a group. 

Coldwater Creek: Just The Facts Please engaged the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, and consulted on a health study which confirmed higher than average cancers in the area, in 2014. At the request of Just The Facts Please, the US Department of Natural Resources wrote a letter [to the Army] urging expedited cleanup of the area for risk of further exposure. 

We also worked with the St. Louis County Department of Health, who created an article for physicians to alert them of our area’s potential exposure. 

We started working with the Center for Disease Control’s Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (CDC’s ATSDR) to develop a public health assessment, which resulted in the federal government acknowledging a link between our exposure to radiological contaminants and our illnesses.


KV:  Our illnesses are from CHRONIC, low-level exposure from ionizing radiation over YEARS, through ingestion and inhalation. For most of these exposures, disease does not present until DECADES after CHRONIC exposure.

Ultimately, we cannot change our exposure, but through education and screening, we can catch illnesses early and change terminal diagnosis into medical treatment opportunities and give folks a fighting chance to beat their cancers!


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