By Holly Shanks
About 300 Northwest St. Louis County residents voiced concerns, often filled with emotion and anger, to government officials tasked with radioactive waste cleanup efforts around Cold Water Creek. The FUSRAP Oversight Committee hosted the update meeting on Feb. 17 in Florissant.
Cold Water Creek travels through North St. Louis County and drains into the Missouri River. The area surrounding the creek has been plagued with radioactive contamination for decades. Radioactive waste from the 1940s’ Manhattan Project atomic weapons program was buried near the creek headwaters, located adjacent to the Lambert St. Louis Airport, the original source of contamination in the area. Ongoing efforts to cleanup the contamination of the creek and surrounding area is being conducted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The Oversight Committee for FUSRAP (Formerly Utilized Sites Remedial Action Program) is a group of community members that consult and participate in the cleanup effort with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers FUSRAP organization. The committee’s role is to provide comments, recommendations and constructive criticism, according to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
Carl Chappell, a member of the FUSRAP Oversight Committee, told a capacity crowd that the government representatives in attendance are working as quickly and as hard as they can to clean up the area and to help the community. He said there may not be answers to some questions, and it is the elected officials, like U.S. Rep. Lacy Clay, D-St. Louis, and U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Missouri, who need to hear from the community to push for more progress concerning the contaminated areas.
“It’s a sad, sad state that all we can really do is keep trying to find the answers for all of us,” Chappell said.
Chappell said he fully understands the frustration and concern because he has lived in the area for 42 years and he lost his father and his son to health issues he feels are related to the contamination.
A citizen advocacy group, Cold Water Creek: Just the Facts Please, formed in 2011 and discovered an unusual amount of rare cancers and other illnesses in the area of Cold Water Creek. The group works to promote public awareness about the atomic age problems. Since its inception, the group has collected several thousand health surveys from former and current residents around the contaminated areas.
Government agencies attending the meeting were the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (FUSRAP office), St. Louis Department of Public Health, Agency for
toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources.
Bruce Munholand, FUSRAP Program Manager, gave the first update on the remediation efforts surrounding Cold Water Creek. A few of the updates and information for known contaminated areas include Cold Water Creek Sampling, St. Cin Park (Hazelwood), Duchesne Park (Florissant), and Palm Drive properties.
More than 8,500 samples of soil from the Cold Water Creek area, from Frost Ave. to St. Denis Bridge, a 3.4 mile stretch of the creek, have been taken to date. As testing progresses downstream fewer elevated levels of contamination are being found. The next sampling of the creek is expected to start in late 2016 and will cover four miles from St. Denis Bridge to Old Halls Ferry Road.
Remediation of St. Cin Park, located in Hazelwood, has been completed. More than 3,400 cubic yards of contaminated material was excavated and removed. FUSRAP is working with the city of Hazelwood to restore the park.
Remediation plans are complete and pre-remediation activates have started for Duchesne Park, located in Florissant. The City of Florissant will close the park during the remediation process. The estimated time of completion is mid to late summer. Following Duchesne Park, the remediation process will begin for the Palm Drive properties, which include residential properties and MSD property adjacent to Cold Water Creek, within the 10-year flood plain.
St. Louis County Health Department Director, Faisal Khan, also presented information. The St. Louis County Health Department is working closely with ATSDR on the formal public health assessment currently being conducted. The study looks at elements, such as maps showing development and population growth of the area dating back to 1910.
Khan also said progress has been made in response to concerns raised at prior public meetings about lack of awareness by local physicians. Outreach to local physician associations has been initiated. He said specific guidelines for the issues do not exist and the St. Louis County Health Department cannot provide treatment recommendations to physicians. The outreach to raise awareness with local physicians has largely been successful, according to Khan.
The information created and sent to physicians by Khan was provided as a handout to meeting attendees. A copy has been posted at the end of this article.
Erin Evans, the regional representative for the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), talked about the current Public Health Assessment (PHA) study.
Evans said the PHA is conducted to determine the levels of public exposure, all environmental elements that could be involved, and the duration of exposure the population has been subjected to. Collecting comprehensive information on individual and family illness histories for evaluation is not part of the current assessment at this time. The current study is compiling data for an entire area population’s level of exposure and risks.
The option of an individual health assessment was not ruled out for the future, but the current study needs to be completed before that determination can be made, officials said. The floor was opened up for a public question and answer session with the government officials.
Most comments were civil, but showed the frustrations and worries residents have had for a prolonged period of time. Many people who voiced concerns have lost multiple family members and friends to less common illnesses known to plague the area. Some family members were worried about passing health issues on to offspring. One resident called for depositing soil from the Cold Water Creek area in the front yards of elected officials to let them see what residents are living with after years of concern.
Residents said they are upset that the cleanup and study process are taking too long. The worry expressed was for the current generations getting sick and dying before the studies are complete to generate answers for the families affected by Cold Water Creek. The completion timeframe of the Cold Water Creek remediation is estimated to be the year 2020, but that is subject to change if officials find more contamination during the ongoing cleanup project.
Health survey maps from the organization “Cold Water Creek: Just the Facts Please” CLICK HERE.
Information about the ATSDR current health assessment CLICK HERE.
For more information about FUSRAP CLICK HERE.
To hear an interview with one of the founders of “Cold Water Creek: Just the Facts Please” about the issues surrounding Cold Water Creek and its history CLICK HERE.