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Health, Science, Environment

Report Linking Cancers To Radioactive Waste Near Coldwater Creek Confirmed By Federal Agency

Coldwater Creek in north St. Louis County has been linked to increased cancer risk, thanks to radioactive waste that contaminated the creek bed.
Sarah Fentem | St. Louis Public Radio
Coldwater Creek in north St. Louis County has been linked to increased cancer risk due to radioactive waste that contaminated the creek bed.

A federal agency has confirmed that residents who lived and played near a north St. Louis County stream may face a higher risk of certain types of cancer because of radioactive contamination in the area.

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry released that final verdict for its public health assessment of Coldwater Creek on Monday.

The federal assessment contradicts a 2018 study funded in part by Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals, which stored the waste that leaked into land around the creek. The company has faced lawsuits claiming it is responsible for illnesses of some residents who lived near the creek.

Read more: Radioactive waste in Coldwater Creek increases cancer risk, says federal report

Advocates for the residents who live near the creek said they’re pleased to see that the agency reiterated its conclusions, despite the opposition from Mallinckrodt.

“Those companies were not trying to do us any favors, obviously. In the end, what they really did was bolster our argument,” community activist Kim Visintine said.

Mallinckrodt had not responded to a request for comment as of Wednesday evening.

The company submitted a study criticizing the report during the public comment period of the federal assessment.

Authors of Mallinckrodt’s report wrote, “A collaborative team of scientists and medical physicians reviewed the draft report and strongly disagree with [the federal agency’s] conclusions.”

The agency revised its initial report to adjust calculations that estimated people’s chances of developing cancers and other health problems.

The new report also added information that addressed community concerns about the report’s accuracy and diseases investigators couldn’t explicitly link to the waste.

The agency was not available for comment as of Wednesday evening.

Mallinckrodt stored toxic waste from the Manhattan Project, a vast government effort during World War II to develop nuclear weapons, at a site near the creek in North County until the 1970s. Over decades, the waste leached into soil nearby. A report from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services found an increased rate of certain types of cancer in the area around the creek.

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry’s assessment is the first federal report to acknowledge that some of those illnesses could have been caused by the waste.

It’s a link Visintine said many in the community have suspected since 2011 but had to work for years to confirm. The assessment could make community members eligible for compensation programs through the federal Radiation Exposure Compensation Act, Visintine said.

“It’s still a long way to go, but this is monumental to us. We couldn’t take any of these next steps without this acknowledgment,” Visintine said. “We see this as a huge win.”

The Army Corps of Engineers is currently remediating the site. The report recommends some changes to its Formerly Utilized Sites Remedial Action Program, including testing homes and basements that may have flooded.

A Corps spokesperson said a team is reviewing the final report to determine whether the recommendations will change remediation plans.

Follow Kae on Twitter: @kmaepetrin

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