A short time ago, I became aware of a rather remarkable group of former and current residents of North St. Louis Country who began to notice high incidence of cancer and other disease in a relatively young population. Their only commonality was place of residence, near Coldwater Creek.
A Radioactive River
This determined group learned that Mallinckrodt Chemical Works in St Louis processed uranium beginning in 1942 for the Manhattan Project, the US effort to produce an atom bomb. Radioactive byproducts of processing were then stored next to Coldwater Creek until the 1970s, often in 55 gallon drums in open fields. Coldwater Creek runs through North St. Louis County and is a tributary for the Missouri River.
Subdivisions grew up in the area from the 1950s through 1970s, exposing the community when the radioactive materials were disturbed by construction. The government has acknowledged contamination occurred and is working to clean up the area.
The Hanford-Downwinder Comparison
Efforts by Coldwater Creek Downwinders remind me of the initial grassroots response by those of us who were exposed to radiation releases from the federal Hanford nuclear weapons facility in Washington State. Hanford was the Manhattan Project site that produced the plutonium used in the Trinity Test in July of 1945 and in the atomic bomb detonated over Nagasaki in August of that year.
Hanford’s offsite radiation releases were not disclosed until 1986, following public pressure and the filing of Freedom of Information Act requests. Many of us had been ill for decades without correct diagnosis before we learned that Hanford was the potential cause of our illnesses.
The Power of Social Media
I feel very strongly that the Coldwater Creek citizens group is using social media to great purpose. The group’s website includes a cancer cluster map of the impacted area and an incidence list of cancer and other diseases among people in nine area zipcodes. When we were working on initial phases of our response to the revelations about Hanford’s releases, Hanford Downwinders had only hand-drawn maps of cancer clusters, and no real means other than telephones or door to door surveys to track incidence of disease. Remember, this was way back in 1986. Social media would have greatly facilitated our ability to share our information with the public.
Coldwater Creek Facts, as its database and influence grow, continues to attract the attention of the media, and, hopefully, of policy makers.
It is my goal to continue to support this noteworthy group, many of whom are experiencing the same illnesses and disabilities found within the Hanford Downwinders.