After uproar, Hazelwood closes St. Cin Park during cleanup of radioactive soil | St. Louis Public Radio

After uproar, Hazelwood closes St. Cin Park during cleanup of radioactive soil

Aug 24, 2015

This post has been updated to include information regarding the city of Florissant. 

Hazelwood is closing a popular park along Coldwater Creek as cleanup efforts continue after the discovery of “low-dose” radioactive soil. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is conducting a cleanup on one side of St. Cin Park, and the city had kept the park’s playground open.

Some residents in this part of north St. Louis County believe their health problems are due to exposure to the creek, which is contaminated with decades-old radioactive waste from the Manhattan Project. Tensions in Hazelwood reached a high point last week, when the Army Corps confirmed that they had found radioactive contamination in soil samples from the backyards of three homes on Palm Drive.

Hazelwood resident Mary Oscko, who lives next to the park, spent the weekend helping coordinate canvassers who collected dozens of signatures demanding the park’s closure. She was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer in 2013, and firmly believes it is due to her frequent use of the park.

“We live next to the creek, and it floods up into the neighborhoods. That’s the only thing that I can think of that maybe predisposes me more than other people,” Oscko said. “I’ve lived there for 29 years.”

Before Oscko could deliver the petition to close the park, city officials put up bright orange fencing around the area. She and three friends chose to deliver the signatures as a thank you, instead of a protest.  

“That’s what we were asking for, and they listened to us,” Oscko said.

Hazelwood city manager Matt Zimmerman said he had been told by the Army Corps that the park would not pose a health risk during the remediation.

During a public meeting last week, Zimmerman told residents that the city had decided to keep the park open because so many people use it in the summer. That prompted a public outcry.

On Monday, Zimmerman said concerns from residents lead the city to change course.  

Hazelwood city manager Matt Zimmerman meets with residents after the delivery of a petition to close St. Cin Park. The city closed the park on Monday.
Credit Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

“I think we’re very responsive to our residents. So if the public concern is that they’d like to see the park closed temporarily while remediation’s going on, we have to be respectful of that, understand that, supportive of that,” Zimmerman said.

Zimmerman said his office worked with the Corps to close the park, and that it would remain closed until the end of the remediation process. He said that over the weekend, the mayor and a local alderman met with residents to discuss the park and hear their concerns.

Dr. Graham Colditz, a cancer epidemiologist and director of the Siteman Cancer Center, said it’s unlikely that dust from the remediation at St. Cin Park would pose an ongoing health risk.

“A lot of the concern is really regarding the generations before who have already been exposed,” Colditz said. “People who grew up there 20, 30, 40 years ago, they were the ones who were exposed at maximum risk.”

Colditz had two caveats to his assertion: people in contact with contaminated soil that has not yet been identified and the potential for new contamination.

The neighboring city of Florissant is set to begin a cleanup of contaminated soil in an overgrown corner of Duchesne Park, which also abuts Coldwater Creek. In a new release Monday, city officials said the park would remain open until the Army Corps begins remediation efforts. 

"It is our understanding from FUSRAP representatives that the radiologically impacted material does not pose an exposure risk to the public in its current state unless the area is disturbed," the statement read. 

The statement added that when the cleanup begins, the city will made accommodations for an alternate dog park during Duchesne's closure. 

For more health and science news from St. Louis, follow Durrie on Twitter: @durrieB

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers conducts remediation of low-dose radioactive soil found in St. Cin Park, along Coldwater Creek in Hazelwood.
Credit Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio