It’s too early to name the seven new radioactive hot spots found near Coldwater Creek in north St. Louis County, federal officials said Wednesday.
“We have contacted the owners (of the properties) but are not yet ready to release the locations until we are sure what we’ve found,” Bruce Munholand, a manager for the Army Corps of Engineers nuclear cleanup program, said at a community meeting at the Florissant civic center.
About 300 people attended the meeting, many with cancers and other health issues they believe could be linked to the creek. Earlier this year, corps officials announced that radiological contamination had been discovered at St. Cin Park, St. Louis Archdiocese’s St. Ferdinand Cemetery and five residential backyards along Palm Drive in Hazelwood and in Duchesne Park in Florissant.
For the last 17 years, the corps has been cleaning up nuclear waste sites around St. Louis including Coldwater Creek, which flows from St. Ann past the airport to the Missouri River. The waste was created from the production of nuclear weapons during and after World War II and stored near the airport, where it contaminated the creek decades ago. The airport storage sites have since been cleaned up.
Close to 10,000 soil samples have been collected and tested from the creek, its banks and the surrounding flood plain. Recent testing turned up additional radiological contamination at three residential and four commercial properties, Munholand said earlier this week. Businesses in the area currently being tested between Frost Avenue to the St. Denis Street bridge include Schnucks, Walgreens and Dierbergs on North Lindbergh.
The contamination is not considered a threat to public health because it is buried 6 inches to 5 feet below the surface of the ground and is close to the creek banks, Munholand said. He added that contaminated areas in the cemetery were about 400 feet from grave sites.
Wednesday’s meeting was held as an update to the corps’ cleanup project known as the Formerly Utilized Sites Remedial Action Program or FUSRAP. Its work at St. Cin Park is expected to finish in February, and then the workers will move onto Duchesne Park. The contamination there is below the surface, and federal officials said the park remains safe for public use but will close down during the cleanup. The Missouri Department of Natural Resources has already tested St. Ferdinand Park in Florissant and found no levels of concern.
The backyards that have been identified have not yet been cleaned but also pose no threat to the current residents, Munholand said. Public officials did acknowledge that the risk to residents’ health would have been greater decades ago when the contamination was fresh. The backyards are expected to be cleaned up late next year.
Samantha Meyer of Lake Saint Louis came to the meeting because she believes the leukemia she developed as an infant could be linked to living near the creek at the time.
“With a room full of sick people, it’s not a coincidence,” said Meyer, 17.
The federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry will start a study next year of a potential link between the creek’s contamination and cancer cases in the area. Missouri health officials had asked for federal assistance after a state report in 2014 showed high rates of leukemia, breast, colon and other cancers in the areas surrounding the creek. Current and former residents have taken their own surveys and found unusual numbers and types of diseases, including 48 cases of rare appendix cancers in the area.
Late next year the testing of the creek is expected to move to the area between the St. Denis Street bridge and Old Halls Ferry Road, and then onto the Missouri River. It could be another decade before the entire creek is cleared, officials said.
Jacob Barker of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.