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Federal government starting to document illnesses related to Coldwater Creek nuclear waste clean up

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HAZELWOOD, MO (KTVI) – A federal agency is stepping in to investigate concerns that residents near Coldwater Creek are contracting cancer and other diseases at an unusual rate.

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) held the first of what they say will be a number of meetings soliciting information from people who believe they have been made sick by low level radioactive waste that has been found along the banks of Coldwater Creek in a number of north St. Louis County locations.

The waste was dumped decades ago when the Manhattan Project was underway in St. Louis, building the first atomic weapon.  That chase for the A-Bomb, at least indirectly, appears to have led Mary Oscko of Hazelwood to the meeting in nearby Overland, Wednesday night.

“I am stage four lung cancer.  I never smoked.  I’ve never been around second hand smoke.  This came as a total shock to me.”

While cigarettes are not part of her life, St. Cin Park has been for nearly three decades.  The park, just out her Plum Drive door, has been closed since August as the Army Corps of Engineers works to clean up the low level radioactive waste found in the soil.  Coldwater Creek runs along the back end of the park and has brought the waste here.  Oscko is certain the creek, and the park where she walked for hours many nights, caused her illness.

“They can’t cure it.  I know that I will be living with this and I know that I’ll die from it,” she said.

She was among several dozen people who came through the ATSDR’s open house in Overland.  The crowd never became hostile, as has been the case in other such gatherings with government officials, but there is clearly skepticism about what the government will or won’t do.

“We’re here to build those relationships.  That’s why we’re here.  This is our first meeting. We want to reach out to these people to build that trust.  We hope to build it,” Lt. Cmdr. Erin Evans of the agency said of the skeptics.

She says their goal is to identify as many people as possible who are ill, determine if or how much they were exposed, then figure out what to do next from a public health standpoint.

When asked by FOX 2 where such a study was ten or twenty years ago, Evans said, “Community concern has led to our involvement.  And the Army Corps of Engineers has recently discovered some additional contaminations in parks along Coldwater Creek and people’s back yards.”

Which leaves possible victims wondering.  Oscko says a group she’s a part of has identified some 2300 cancer victims living close to the creek.  Some of them are neighbors and friends.

“I have friends who’s child has his first brain surgery when he was one week old. His second brain surgery at six months old.  His third brain surgery at six years old.  Then they had his funeral at six and a half.  That infuriates me.”

She says she also feels cheated out of the years she is certain she will lose to cancer.

“I’m in a lot of pain.  I take a lot of pain medication.  I have a new grandson.  He’s fifteen months and I was just praying that I would get to know him.  And I got to be there when he was born and he’s now fifteen months, but you want more.”

The stories are seemingly endless.  Raylene Barton’s daughter had breast cancer.  Her two siblings are sick as well.

“There are more and more people that have rare types of cancer.  I’ve got a brother and a sister that have Graves disease which is a thyroid problem.  And it’s odd to have two people in one family with it.”

She’s happy about the study, but also a little resentful.

“I feel like I’m a radioactive guinea pig that they’re trying to figure out what are the effects of low level, long term radiation,” she said.