FLORISSANT, Mo. – An unlikely alliance between two Missouri politicians could be the start of a plan for nuclear safety advocacy in St. Louis. Environmental advocates say the latest bipartisan push for new testing in the Hazelwood School District may lead to medical monitoring and compensation for those exposed to nuclear waste.
No one disagrees that there is nuclear waste in the creek behind Jana Elementary School. The federal government acknowledges that nuclear waste material was dumped in Coldwater Creek, at a site near the airport, and in West Lake Landfill in Bridgeton. What is disputed is whether that waste has moved around enough to make people sick.
Jana Elementary closed last November under the belief that people in the school may be at risk. Congresswoman Cori Bush, a Democrat, and Senator Josh Hawley, a Republican, are both urging more testing in the district.
“I felt like I could fly,” environmental advocate Dawn Chapman said. “I just thought – finally.”
Chapman first told us about possible political involvement in July 2022 at the flooded West Lake Landfill.
An outreach director for Rep. Bush was there, along with Chapman, who was elated to see Bush and Hawley working across the aisle.
“We just attended a meeting where (the) EPA gave an update, and both offices were sitting side-by-side with each other, right there, asking questions of EPA,” Chapman said. “There can be no doubt they’re working as a team.”
She says they’re now looking at why Missouri residents who were not atomic workers are not covered under the federal Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA), which offers medical monitoring and sometimes compensation for people in 11 states but not Missouri.
“Ashley Bernaugh said, “If you can pretend it never happened, then you don’t have to take responsibility for those actions,” said Ashley Bernaugh, president of Jana Elementary’s PTA.
Bernaugh learned Missourians may be excluded through a sort of loophole because of the city’s designation as a nuclear dumping site.
“The (RECA) legislation really focuses on the mining and the testing. However, the very first tests were certainly here in St. Louis to enrich the uranium,” she said. “But, if you don’t admit it, which this was not admitted, that St. Louis was part of that process until the 60s and the 70s.”
Bernaugh has also heard legislative rumblings to change that. FOX 2 has learned Christen Commuso of the Missouri Coalition for the Environment is also involved. Commuso told FOX 2 she’s speaking with elected officials about either making Missourians eligible for RECA or creating our own program.
“Our government was the one that exposed them, not a private company, so there’s no fight about that,” Chapman said. “(Rather, it’s) How do we do it? Do we use an existing program? Do we rewrite a program for St. Louis? So, yes, these conversations are happening bipartisan.”