ST. LOUIS COUNTY • A group of 16 people from north St. Louis County, including two Berkeley police officers, filed a second lawsuit Tuesday alleging that nuclear waste in Coldwater Creek caused their cancers and other illnesses.
The current or former residents of Florissant, Spanish Lake, Hazelwood and St. Ann were exposed to nuclear waste that was dumped near the airport and contaminated Coldwater Creek starting in the 1940s, according to the suit filed in U.S. District Court. The residents report contracting various breast, testicular, brain and pancreatic cancers and other autoimmune disorders.
According to the lawsuit, the officers were exposed to radiation at Berkeley's police firing range adjacent to the waste sites.
Sergeant and watch commander Evelio Valdespino has worked for the police department for the last 14 years and has been diagnosed with a form of leukemia. James Bakula retired from the department after 25 years and was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a blood cancer, according to the lawsuit.
In February, an initial group of 13 people from North County filed a federal lawsuit with similar allegations of reckless and negligent actions that caused their illnesses.
Several of the plaintiffs from both cases have died and are suing through their relatives.
Both groups are suing Mallinckrodt Inc. and other corporations involved in the manufacture and disposal of the nuclear waste.
Mallinckrodt, which is now known as Covidien pharmaceuticals, was not involved in the disposal or cleanup of contaminated debris from the company's uranium processing, according to a statement from a spokeswoman from the Hazelwood-based company.
Uranium was processed at the Mallinckrodt chemical company in downtown St. Louis for atomic bomb production during World War II. The radioactive byproducts were dumped at an open storage site by the airport through the 1950s. Waste was also buried near Coldwater Creek, the western border of the waste site.
In the 1990s, soil and water testing in and around the creek showed unsafe levels of uranium and thorium.
The plaintiffs in the cases as well as hundreds of former residents who connected in a Facebook group believe they were exposed for decades in neighborhoods that were frequently flooded with creek water.
Cleanup of the designated waste sites became the responsibility of the Army Corps of Engineers in 1997. That work is nearly complete and the public is not at risk, according to a spokesman.
Current residents of North County do have significantly higher rates of cancer and chronic diseases compared to the rest of the county and the state, a disparity that health officials have attributed to socioeconomic factors.
Each year health departments across the country receive 1,000 reports of suspected cancer clusters. It is difficult to connect cancers to possible hazardous exposures.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs will hold an informational meeting that is open to the public at 6 p.m. today at the Renaissance St. Louis Airport Hotel at 9801 Natural Bridge Road.