Coldwater Creek looks like any other placid stream running through north St. Louis County, Missouri. It flows over 15 miles through the cities of Florissant, Hazelwood, Black Jack, Spanish Lake, St. Ann, Berkeley and Ferguson.
Unbeknownst to many residents, the tributary is downstream from a 22-acre field where the since-disbanded Atomic Energy Commission admittedly dumped tons of waste, much of which was radioactive. The waste included 60 tons of uranium-tainted sand from the Nazi’s nuclear program, acquired by the U.S. near the end of World War II, Al-Jazeera reported earlier this year.
Residents who grew up near Coldwater Creek have reportedly been afflicted with debilitating and, often, deadly illnesses for years, and many of them blame their maladies on the water they played in as children.
In the late 1990s, the Army Corps of Engineers found the soil was contaminated with uranium, thorium and radium; uranium and thorium have half-lives lasting billions of years, meaning the health issues they’re linked to can afflict generations of residents.
Jenell Rodden Wright said she noticed that the classmates who graduated with her from McCluer North High School in 1988 began falling ill, frequently with cancer, St. Louis Magazine reported.
“Most of the cancers appear to have popped out in just the last few years,” Wright told St. Louis Magazine in 2013. “We are not even in full bloom.”
A fellow McCluer North High School grad started a Facebook group called “Coldwater Creek–Just the facts Please” in 2011, and it has more than 12,000 members, many of whom were ill. As of 2013, the page reported more than 2,500 cases of cancer, autoimmune diseases, and birth defects in North County.
Even the more recent stories are filled with tales of illness destroying families.
“My parents grew up in Jennings near Jennings station rd and west Florrisant, they both died from cancer,” Theresa Stobart Callaway wrote on Oct. 28. “My dad had non-(Hodgkin's) lymphoma, prostate, and melanoma. my mom had a rare cancer central nervous system lymphoma… 3 out of 4 of us children all have auto-immune disorders.”
In a 2011 post, Kim Thone Visintine requested that group members post who in their families had been afflicted with cancer in order to bring the Center for Disease Control’s attention to the “cancer cluster” in the area. The post garnered more than 1,000 comments and is still receiving comments as of Oct. 28.
According to a 2015 follow-up story by St. Louis Magazine, aptly titled “Heaven Can’t Wait,” Congress failed to acknowledge something might be wrong around Coldwater Creek until 1990. According to a 1994 report from the Department of Energy’s St. Louis Site Remediation Task Force, they hoped to accelerate the cleanup in 1997. Now, 18, years later, the cleanup still isn’t complete. The area around Coldwater Creek remains heavily populated and its residents are still sick and dying, sometimes of relatively rare cancers.
The Department of Energy listed more than a dozen separate sites that required remediation planning, including Coldwater Creek.
“The population that grew up in the 50s, 60s, and 70s — they were very hard hit, and anecdotally at least there seems to be an environmental health concern,” St. Louis County Department of Health Director Faisal Khan told Al-Jazeera. “It has been an environmental health disaster that has unfolded over decades, and is only now coming to light with the extent of community concern and angst about what has been done.”