By Don Corrigan (See this article and other local news in the West End Word Newspaper.)
Missouri state Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-University City, is already running hard for Congress against U.S. Rep. Lacy Clay Jr., D-St. Louis. She said she will defeat him on “the number one issue in the 1st District: radioactive contamination.”
Chappelle-Nadal has been holding weekly town hall meetings on the issue, even though the Democratic primary for Clay’s seat is not until August. Incumbent Clay has been re-elected to Congress six times since 2001 when he took over for his father, Bill Clay, who retired after 32 years in the House.
“This has become a crusade for me,” said Chappelle-Nadal. “After all that I have learned, I see radioactive contamination in north county as a bigger crisis than Flint, Mich. In Flint, you can smell the bad water and see the discolored water that is poisoning people. Contamination here is something you cannot see or smell, because it’s radioactivity.
“But the results are clear,” said Chappelle-Nadal. “The mothers who have documented the cancer clusters, the leukemias, the brain tumors from this stuff are doing God’s work. This crisis has been neglected for too long.”
In 2012, redistricting added an underground fire at the Bridgeton Landfill to Chappelle-Nadal’s state senate district. The long-term fire has been moving closer to radioactive waste illegally dumped at the neighboring Westlake landfill.
Chappelle-Nadal pointed out that radioactive contamination is a 50-year-old problem that dates back to the Cold War. And she said it is not confined to Westlake landfill, but was spread throughout north St. Louis County. She noted the work of Just Moms St. Louis, which has taken surveys of illnesses in contaminated areas of Coldwater Creek.
“Coldwater, Westlake – it’s all the same stuff,” said Chappelle-Nadal. “It started near downtown St. Louis when Mallinckrodt Chemical was processing uranium for atomic bombs. The waste was spread all over north county at a time when it was not so populated.
“If people are not aware of what a big problem this is yet, I am going to make them aware,” said Chappelle-Nadal. “I am going to call this out. I don’t mind being an agitator on this, just like with Ferguson.
“If the state legislators don’t do their part to address this problem, I will be saying some things,” said continued. “I will be pointing out who were the ones who chose to turn their backs, turn their heads, chose not to care.”
State Buyout Bill
For starters, Chappelle-Nadal is sponsoring Senate Bill 600, legislation that would involve a buyout of 91 homes in the Westlake vicinity. She said the homes are an immediate concern, but businesses in the area are a concern as well.
“The people in these 91 homes are concerned about their children,” she said. “I want to see a fair market buyout of their homes. I want to see them safe and to not have to sacrifice how they were living.”
Chappelle-Nadal notes that the problem of contamination is bigger than 91 homes. And she concedes it is a county problem, a state problem and a federal problem — plenty of blame to go around on the contamination issue.
“Who is responsible? There was a contract between the Department of Energy and Mallinckrodt that gave the company immunity in exchange for processing the uranium,” said Chappelle-Nadal. “The government bears responsibility, for sure.”
However, Chappelle-Nadal also points a finger of blame at the radioactive waste haulers, landfill operators, developers, county, state and federal agencies.
“We did some things in the past that were not wise,” said Chappelle-Nadal. “People moved to north county for a home and the American Dream, and they are finding out that their homes were located on contaminated land and by contaminated creeks, and it has become a nightmare.
“Enough is enough,” Chappelle-Nadal added. “Lacy Clay has had 16 years to do something about this. And before that, his dad had 32 years to deal with it. They’ve had 48 combined years to work for the people on this.”
Reacting To Contamination
Clay’s office does claim to have communicated with both the Environmental Protection Agency and the Corps of Engineers about the radioactive waste problem. Both agencies have been studying ways to do remediation of sites and to remove contaminated materials.
Agencies also have disputed claims over just how much of a health hazard the radioactive contamination poses, since it has been determined to be “low level” in many instances after examination.
Nevertheless, Chappelle-Nadal promises to make a lot of noise over the contamination problem that she said should be the number one issue in this election year in the District 1 Congressional race.
“I don’t think we are prepared or thinking about everything that might happen,” she said. “With climate change, we are having more storms and flooding. There has to be concern about what is getting into our groundwater, our rivers and our drinking water. We can’t look away any longer.”