St. Louis activists praise Biden’s support for compensation over Manhattan Project contamination

Aug 11, 2023, 9:07 AM

FILE - Karen Nickel, left, and Dawn Chapman, co-founders of Just Moms STL, a group created to bring...

FILE - Karen Nickel, left, and Dawn Chapman, co-founders of Just Moms STL, a group created to bring attention to nuclear contamination found in the metropolitan area, pause while sharing stories Friday, April 7, 2023, in Maryland Heights, Mo. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson, File)

(AP Photo/Jeff Roberson, File)

ST. LOUIS (AP) — St. Louis-area activists have been fighting for years to get government compensation for people with cancer and other serious illnesses potentially connected to Manhattan Project nuclear contamination. This week marked a major victory, with support coming from the president.

Uranium was processed in St. Louis starting at the onset of World War II as America raced to develop nuclear bombs. In July, reporting as part of an nonchalance and indifference for the risks posed by uranium contamination. The government documents were obtained by outside researchers through the Freedom of Information Act and shared with the news organizations.

Since the news reports, bipartisan support has emerged to compensate those in St. Louis and elsewhere whose illnesses may be tied to nuclear fallout and contamination. On Wednesday, that support extended to President Joe Biden.

“I’m prepared to help in terms of making sure that those folks are taken care of,” Biden said during a visit to New Mexico.

Dawn Chapman and Karen Nickel, who lead the activist group Just Moms STL, said they’re optimistic but not letting up.

“It’s a great day,” Chapman said. “We feel incredible. But we don’t take the time to celebrate it. For us, it’s like we have a strong wind at our back. Now who do we push? We don’t let up for a moment.”

The push for compensation has united politicians with virtually nothing else in common. Republican U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley, of Missouri, is an ardent supporter. So is U.S. Rep. Cori Bush, a St. Louis Democrat.

Hawley introduced legislation last month to expand an existing compensation program for exposure victims. The Senate endorsed the amendment, but the proposed changes to the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act are not yet included in a House-approved defense bill amid negotiations toward final legislation.

St. Louis is far from alone in suffering the effects of the geographically scattered national nuclear program. Advocates have been trying for years to bring awareness to the lingering effects of radiation exposure on the Navajo Nation, where millions of tons of uranium ore were extracted over decades to support U.S. nuclear activities.

Months after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, Mallinckrodt Chemical Co. in St. Louis began processing uranium into a concentrated form that could be further refined elsewhere into the material that made it into weapons.

By the late-1940s, the government was trucking nuclear waste from the Mallinckrodt plant to a site near Lambert Airport. It was there that the waste was dumped into Coldwater Creek, contaminating a waterway that was a popular place for kids to play. Just last year, Jana Elementary School, which sits near the creek, was shut down over possible contamination, even though studies conducted by the Army Corps of Engineers found none.

In 1966, the Atomic Energy Commission demolished and buried buildings near the airport and moved the waste to another site, contaminating it, too. Documents cited by AP and the other news organizations showed that storage was haphazard and waste was spilled on roads but that mistakes were often ignored.

Uranium waste also was illegally dumped in West Lake Landfill, near the airport, in 1973. It’s still there.

Cleanup in St. Louis County has topped $1 billion, and it’s far from over.

Meanwhile, uranium was processed in neighboring St. Charles County starting in the 1950s, creating more contamination. The government built a 75-footmound, covered in rock, to serve as a permanent disposal cell, and the area is considered remediated.

Some experts are skeptical about the connection between diseases and the contamination. Tim Jorgensen, a professor of radiation medicine at Georgetown University, told the AP in July that the biggest risk factor for cancer is age and that local radiation’s contribution would be so low as to be hard to detect.

Still, in 2019, the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry issued a report that found people who regularly played in Coldwater Creek as children from the 1960s to the 1990s may have a slight increased risk of bone cancer, lung cancer and leukemia. The agency determined that those exposed daily to the creek starting in the 2000s, when cleanup began, could have a small increased risk of lung cancer.

Many of those with direct connections to illnesses are far more convinced. Kyle Hedgpeth’s young daughter and niece both were diagnosed with cancer in 2020, within a month of each other. Both have since recovered.

Hedgpeth’s wife and her brother grew up near a creek that flows from the St. Charles County site. He believes they picked up something from exposure to the creek and passed it down to their girls.

“It seems all too coincidental,” Hedgpeth said. “I just think there’s too many red flags literally putting it in their backyard to ignore it.”

National News

FILE - Visitors tour the Supreme Court in Washington, Monday, Sept. 25, 2023. The new term of the h...

Associated Press

The Supreme Court will take up abortion and gun cases in its new term while ethics concerns swirl

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court is returning to a new term to take up some familiar topics — guns and abortion — and concerns about ethics swirling around the justices. The year also will have a heavy focus on social media and how free speech protections apply online. A big unknown is whether the […]

22 minutes ago

Kyle Ellison stands in front of a fallen tree on Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023, in Kula, Hawaii. As hig...

Associated Press

When Kula needed water to stop wildfire, it got a trickle. Many other US cities are also vulnerable

Hours before devastating fires scorched the historic town of Lahaina on Maui, Kyle Ellison labored to save his rental house in Kula, a rural mountain town 24 miles away, from a different blaze. As high winds whipped burning trees and grass, Ellison and his landlord struggled with plummeting water pressure. Ellison had to wait for […]

33 minutes ago

File - Graduating Harvard University students celebrate their degrees during commencement ceremonie...

Associated Press

Borrowers are reassessing their budgets as student loan payments resume after pandemic pause

NEW YORK (AP) — Millions of Americans must start repaying their federal student loans again in October, with monthly payments averaging hundreds of dollars a month. To get ready, borrowers are cutting expenses, taking on additional work, and looking for options to reduce their monthly payments. Megan McClelland, 38, said she has started asking for […]

4 hours ago

Associated Press

Truck accident in Illinois causes “multiple” deaths and an ammonia leak that leads to an evacuation

TEUTOPOLIS, Ill. (AP) — A semitruck carrying a toxic substance overturned in Illinois, causing “multiple fatalities” and dangerous air conditions that prompted the evacuation of area residents, authorities said Saturday. Firefighters, police and other emergency responders converged on the scene late Friday near Teutopolis and were still on the scene Saturday to try to contain […]

6 hours ago

Associated Press

New York stunned and swamped by record-breaking rainfall as more downpours are expected

NEW YORK (AP) — One of New York’s wettest days in decades left the metropolitan area stunned and swamped Friday after heavy rainfall knocked out several subway and commuter rail lines, stranded drivers on highways, flooded basements and shuttered a terminal at LaGuardia Airport for hours. Some 8.65 inches (21.97 centimeters) of rain had fallen […]

9 hours ago

In this photo provided by the Ocean Exploration Trust, the chrysanthemum flower crest, an honored i...

Associated Press

Video provides first clear views of WWII aircraft carriers lost in the pivotal Battle of Midway

Footage from deep in the Pacific Ocean has given the first detailed look at three World War II aircraft carriers that sank in the pivotal Battle of Midway and could help solve mysteries about the days-long barrage that marked a shift in control of the Pacific theater from Japanese to U.S. forces. Remote submersibles operating […]

9 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Swedish Cyberknife...

September is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month

September is a busy month on the sports calendar and also holds a very special designation: Prostate Cancer Awareness Month.

Ziply Fiber...

Dan Miller

The truth about Gigs, Gs and other internet marketing jargon

If you’re confused by internet technologies and marketing jargon, you’re not alone. Here's how you can make an informed decision.

Education families...

Education that meets the needs of students, families

Washington Virtual Academies (WAVA) is a program of Omak School District that is a full-time online public school for students in grades K-12.

Emergency preparedness...

Emergency planning for the worst-case scenario

What would you do if you woke up in the middle of the night and heard an intruder in your kitchen? West Coast Armory North can help.

Innovative Education...

The Power of an Innovative Education

Parents and students in Washington state have the power to reimagine the K-12 educational experience through Insight School of Washington.

Medicare fraud...

If you’re on Medicare, you can help stop fraud!

Fraud costs Medicare an estimated $60 billion each year and ultimately raises the cost of health care for everyone.

St. Louis activists praise Biden’s support for compensation over Manhattan Project contamination