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Army Corps finds more radioactive contamination on properties near Coldwater Creek

Army Corps finds more radioactive contamination on properties near Coldwater Creek

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Radioactive contamination at St. Cin Park in Hazelwood

A worker with CB&I checks for radioactive contamination as a section of earth is excavated on Thursday, Aug. 20, 2015 at St. Cin Park in Hazelwood. Photo by Huy Mach,

Seven more private properties near Coldwater Creek may need cleanups after recent testing indicated the presence of radiological contamination.

It’s the latest discovery by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as it tests for radioactive contamination along Coldwater Creek. This summer, the corps said some residential yards in Hazelwood were contaminated, the first time in 17 years of cleaning up the mess from the nation’s early nuclear weapons program that the corps found contamination on residential property.

Now, it has found more nearby. Bruce Munholand, the program manager for the corps nuclear cleanup program known as the Formerly Utilized Sites Remedial Action Program, or FUSRAP, said there were three residential properties and four commercial properties near the creek that might contain contamination. That’s on top of the five residential properties the corps identified this August near Palm Drive.

Munholand emphasized that the contamination shouldn’t pose a danger because it is buried 6 inches to 5 feet below the surface of the ground and is closer to the bank of Coldwater Creek, away from high-trafficked areas.

“We have not found any levels in these areas that we would consider to be a danger,” he said in a media briefing Monday.

Still, the levels are above the guidelines set for the cleanup, and the corps is advising property owners not to disturb the soil near the contaminated areas.

It may not be until late summer by the time the corps gets to the private properties. It’s still finishing up at St. Cin Park near Palm Drive, a job that has already removed 2,700 cubic yards of contaminated material and will continue through February. Then, the corps will turn its attention to Duchesne Park, where it also identified contamination this summer.

It should get to the private properties by late summer, Munholand said. Hopefully, he said, FUSRAP can finish sampling and cleanup in the 3.5-mile stretch of creek between Frost Avenue and the St. Denis Street bridge by the end of 2016. Then, the corps would begin the next phase of testing between the bridge and Old Halls Ferry Road.

But it could be another decade before the entire job is done.

The corps declined to name any of the businesses or homes where the most recent contamination was found until it confirmed all property owners had been notified.

It will host a meeting at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the James J Eagan Center at 1 James J Eagan Drive in Florissant to update residents on the cleanup efforts and the newly discovered contamination.

The latest discoveries come as the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry commences a study of a potential link between the creek’s contamination and high numbers of cancer diagnoses. Residents who grew up there believe the high numbers are a result of childhood exposure to the creek, and the St. Louis County and Missouri health departments are also looking into the cancer rates in the area.

Nuclear processing waste stored at sites near Lambert St. Louis International Airport during the early decades of the Cold War leached into Coldwater Creek, which runs through north St. Louis County suburbs such as Hazelwood and Florissant before emptying into the Missouri River.

For some 15 years, the corps has worked to clean up contamination throughout the region: the Mallinckrodt Chemical facility in St. Louis where uranium was processed for the Manhattan Project, the Dow Chemical plant in Madison where the uranium was shaped and the airport sites where the waste was stored. In the last five years, the cleanups have cost $25 million to $40 million annually.

Editor's note: The story has been changed to reflect that Coldwater Creek empties into the Missouri River, not the Mississippi River. 

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