A government contractor buried tens of thousands of barrels of nuclear waste in two sites around St. Louis that may have caused more than 2,700 cases of cancer, a lawsuit and CBS News are alleging.
“Within a six-house radius, I knew four people with brain cancer, one a child, one a young professor,” resident Jenelle Wright told CBS. “And I just thought, ‘This is really odd.'”
What is truly disturbing is that Wright and others only figured out that something was wrong when they got together on Facebook to plan a school reunion. When they started reconnecting, they noticed that a lot of people they knew had developed cancer.
“If we did not have social media, if Facebook did not exist, we would never have put these pieces together,” Wright said.
Nuclear Waste on Playgrounds
Wright and other residents of North County near St. Louis think the cause of cancer was the tens of thousands of barrels of nuclear waste dumped in the area decades ago by the Mallinckrodt Chemical Company. The company had been hired by the US government agency to process uranium for America’s nuclear weapons program. Then, “under the cover of national security secrecy, the government authorized the company to dump radioactive wastes quietly in the suburbs,” according to a 1990 New York Times article.
The waste was buried in two areas near Coldwater Creek, which runs through the area. One of the sites where the waste was dumped was located near a park where Wright and her friends played as kids. The park is now locked tight and engineers are trying to clean up the mess.
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“What you see is an environmental health disaster unfolding slowly over decades,” St. Louis County Health Director Dr. Faisal Khan told CBS News. “… The rates of appendix cancer, for instance, which is relatively rare — we see about 800 cases across the nation per year. To find seven or eight cases in one zip code or one small geographic area is rather unusual.”
The study on the soil could take years. That frustrates Mary Oscko, a resident who has stage 4 lung cancer.
“My husband and I had to sit down at night and discuss whether I want to be cremated or buried,” she told CBS News. “I don’t want to be buried in North County, that’s the one thing I told him — I do not want to be buried where this soil is.”
During World War II Mallinckrodt processed uranium in St. Louis for the world’s first nuclear reactor and the Manhattan Project, which created the atomic bomb.
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