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Health, Science, Environment

After 'Atomic Homefront' release, frustrated residents fill Army Corps Coldwater Creek meeting

More than a hundred showed up to the St. Louis Army Corps of Engineers' annual meeting in February 2018 to update the public on efforts to remediate legacy nuclear waste along Coldwater Creek.
Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio
More than a hundred showed up to the St. Louis Army Corps of Engineers' annual meeting to update the public on efforts to remediate legacy nuclear waste along Coldwater Creek. Many had just seen the HBO documentary, Atomic Homefront.

When the Army Corps of Engineers on Thursday delivered an update on its ongoing work to clean up radioactive waste along Coldwater Creek, it was to a packed room. More than 100 people attended the meeting; some attendees only recently learned about the radioactive waste after watching the HBO documentary, "Atomic Homefront," which began airing last week.

The film documents the struggle of north St. Louis County residents who live near areas illegally dumped with World War II-era nuclear waste, particularly the West Lake Landfill Superfund site. While many attendees in the room had known about the waste for several years, some were stunned to learn about it from the documentary.

Among them was Matthew Bullion, who moved to Florissant in 2013. Bullion, 32, recently subscribed to HBO Go. 

"And I said, look at that, there's a radioactive symbol with a backdrop of the St. Louis Arch," he said. "We gotta see what this is."


Bullion was horrified to learn that there was waste dumped along Coldwater Creek, which runs through his neighborhood. He said that he'd seen people working in the area but was not aware of what the work was for. 

"What wasn't mentioned in this documentary is that when we are out here on the streets, we see these crews," Bullion said. "These crews are in plain clothes. There's no signs stating what they are doing." 

The Corps of Engineers began cleaning up residential areas last year. Officials completed work on properties along Palm Drive in Hazelwood in October and plan to conduct work on former baseball fields in the area this summer, said Bruce Munholand, St. Louis chief of the Formerly Utilized Sites Remedial Action Program, known as FUSRAP. The program is also continuing to sample soils in residential areas. 

"If we find contamination in the residential areas near the surface, we will stop the work in Coldwater Creek and adjacent properties and move to those residential properties to remediate them quickly," Munholand said. 

The Corps of Engineers recently found contamination at the Chez Paree Apartments in Hazelwood. Officials began excavating the waste there last month and expect to complete it this spring. 

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) has still yet to release the results of its public health assessment of cancers and diseases in the area, which it began conducting in December 2015. 

Follow Eli on Twitter: @StoriesByEli

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