ST. LOUIS – A recent report from environmental investigation consultants pointed out radioactive contamination at a St. Louis County school.
With the shocking discovery, the question arises, where did this contamination come from? While it may be difficult to pinpoint the exact source, radioactive waste has inhabited the St. Louis region for decades.
In the 1940s, St. Louis had a site dedicated to The Manhattan Project, a code name for the American-led effort to develop a functional atomic weapon during World War II. The project started in response to German scientists who have been working on nuclear weapons technology since the 1930s.
The Mallinckrodt Chemical Works factory, located near the Mississippi River in Downtown St. Louis, was built to process uranium. It was the nation’s first plant to create uranium for building an atomic bomb.
According to the company’s timeline, the Mallinckrodt Company filtered and created all the uranium oxide used by the Manhattan Project in 1942. The chemical waste that the plant created was stored at a site north of the St. Louis-Lambert Airport.
The waste sat there from 1947 to the 1960s. In the 1960s, the land was purchased and the waste was moved to a new site on Latty Avenue in north St. Louis County. Environmental specialists say the radioactive waste was not stored correctly at either site.
Coldwater Creek, which runs north from Overland to Spanish Lake, picked up contamination over a period of several years when piles of radioactive waste were left along Latty Avenue and entered the creek during heavy rains and floods.
In 1973, around 47,000 tons of that same radioactive waste was illegally dumped into the West Lake Landfill in Bridgeton. The EPA deemed the creek and landfill as superfund sites in 1989 and 1990 respectively.
Coldwater Creek carried this radioactive material into North St. Louis County, contaminating much of the area around the creek. Concerns about the newly-discovered radioactive contamination at Jana Elementary School increased after Coldwater Creek flooded in July amid record-breaking rainfall in the St. Louis region. Environmentalists raised new concerns about flooding possibly breaching radioactive material this year when they noticed a car washed onto the site.
A team from the United States Army Corps of Engineers in St. Louis is reviewing an independent report on radioactive contamination at the school. The team is planning to retest with its method to ensure accuracy of the radioactve waste cited by the Boston Chemical Data Corp.
Residents around some communities near Coldwater Creek have seen increased rates of rare cancers, birth defects, and various autoimmune disorders that are potentially linked to ionizing radiation poisoning. The topic is explored further in-depth in HBO’s 2017 documentary “Atomic Homefront.”