St. Louis-area activists have been advocating for government compensation for individuals suffering from cancer and other serious illnesses that may be linked to nuclear contamination from the Manhattan Project. This week, their efforts received a significant boost as President Joe Biden expressed his support for helping those affected.
During World War II, uranium processing took place in St. Louis as part of America’s race to develop nuclear bombs. Recent reports have shed light on decades of indifference towards the risks associated with uranium contamination. Thousands of pages of government documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act reveal a lack of concern for the potential dangers posed by nuclear fallout.
Following the publication of these reports, bipartisan support has emerged to compensate individuals in St. Louis and other affected areas. President Biden, during a visit to New Mexico, stated his willingness to assist in ensuring that these individuals are taken care of. Activist group Just Moms STL, led by Dawn Chapman and Karen Nickel, expressed optimism but emphasized that their efforts would not let up. They consider this a major victory and are determined to continue advocating for justice.
The push for compensation has united politicians who may disagree on other issues. Republican Senator Josh Hawley and Democratic Representative Cori Bush both support compensation for exposure victims. Hawley recently introduced legislation to expand an existing compensation program, which was endorsed by the Senate. However, negotiations for final legislation have delayed the inclusion of these proposed changes in a House-approved defense bill.
The effects of the national nuclear program are not limited to St. Louis. Advocates have been working to raise awareness about the lasting consequences of radiation exposure on the Navajo Nation, where millions of tons of uranium ore were extracted to support U.S. nuclear activities.
In St. Louis, uranium waste was dumped into Coldwater Creek near the airport, contaminating a popular recreational area for children. The waste was also illegally dumped in West Lake Landfill in 1973 and remains there today. The cleanup in St. Louis County has already cost over $1 billion, and the process is far from complete.
While some experts are skeptical about the connection between illnesses and contamination, a report from the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry found a slight increased risk of bone cancer, lung cancer, and leukemia for individuals who regularly played in Coldwater Creek as children. Those exposed to the creek starting when cleanup began in the 2000s are also found to have a small increased risk of lung cancer.
Many individuals directly affected by illnesses are firmly convinced of the connection. Kyle Hedgpeth, whose daughter and niece were both diagnosed with cancer in 2020, believes that their proximity to a creek near the St. Charles County site played a role in their illnesses. He points to the numerous red flags indicating potential contamination and believes that it cannot be ignored.