St. Louis

On a beautiful September day in a quiet suburb of St. Louis, Carol Williams is anxiously awaiting surgery in less than a week, when she will lose her tongue.

Williams, 54, stands at 4’11” and weighs just 95 pounds. She greets us at the front door of her house in Black Jack, Missouri in her Sunday best, though even her impeccable outfit doesn’t hide her frail condition. Despite her multiple oral surgeries, Carol is eager to speak, because she knows that after September 19, 2017, she’ll have to re-learn basic motor skills that most of us have been able to do unconsciously since infancy.

“I’ll have to learn how to speak again, how to eat again. it’s going to take a while, because I have to heal, from the swelling and all that,” Williams told Grit Post.

Williams is currently diagnosed with stage 4 cancer of the tongue, medically known as a basaloid squamous cell carcinoma (BSCC) of the head and neck. A March 2008 study published in the U.S. National Library of Medicine defines a BSCC as a “rare and aggressive variant of cancer that mainly arises in the upper aerodigestive tract,” and can prove fatal if left untreated.

While tobacco and alcohol use are the most common causes of a BSCC, Williams — who worked for Anthem Blue Cross between 1981 and 2005 (she’s currently on disability) — doesn’t smoke or drink and is the youngest of six. None of her siblings have had any health issues. After rolling back her sleeve and moving her hair away from her face, a skin graft in which tissue from her wrist was added to her face is painfully visible.

St. Louis
Black Jack, MO resident Carol Williams, showing a scar from a previous surgery (Photo: Grit Post)
St. Louis
Williams’ skin graft (Photo: Grit Post)
St. Louis
Left: Williams in May of 2015 Right: Williams in February of 2016 (Photo: Carol Williams for Grit Post)

Williams first noticed health problems in 1999, five years after she bought her home. It started with pain in her back and right shoulder, followed by severe pain on the right side of her jaw. At first, she had teeth pulled and multiple root canal treatments, but the pain persisted. It wasn’t until March of 2015 when an oral surgeon told Williams she had cancer inside her mouth.

“They took nerves and veins from wrist for the graft, and skin from my jaw. I had 20 teeth removed,” Williams said.

Williams’ advanced cancer may be due to the ionized radiation coming from the Coldwater Creek nuclear waste disposal site, which is within walking distance of her home in Black Jack. Even though she bought her home more than 23 years ago, she only found out about the radioactive waste in her community on Facebook, after joining the group Coldwater Creek – Just the Facts Please (Just the Facts), which boasts more than 20,000 members.

Up until the creek was dredged in 2016, Williams said the entire community reeked of rotten eggs.

“When I moved out here in 1994, my friend said, ‘Oh you’re moving out where it stinks.’ I’ve been smelling it for 22 years,” Williams said. “Everybody is aware of that odor.”

On page 213 of the World Health Organization’s 2005 Blue Book, physicians wrote that there was “compelling evidence” that exposure to ionized radiation was tied to the development of cancerous tumors on the tongue. The WHO also cited long-term studies of victims of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings that found increased relative risk of benign and malignant tongue tumors due to ionized radiation exposure.

St. Louis
Warning sign adjacent to Coldwater Creek (Photo: Coldwater Creek Just the Facts)

The waste disposal sites themselves — Coldwater Creek, West Lake Landfill, the Bridgeton Landfill, and the Weldon Springs Ordnance Works site — have held toxic radioactive waste from the Manhattan project for more than 70 years. In the Army Corps of Engineers 2005 Record of Decision (ROD) for North St. Louis County, the Formerly Utilized Sites Remedial Action Program (FUSRAP) recommended that county officials “prohibit the development and use of the properties for residential housing, elementary and secondary schools, child care facilities and playgrounds” due to the risk of construction releasing these toxic elements into the open air.

That waste has slowly spread throughout the Northern part of St. Louis County for the better part of a century, after the toxic chemicals eroded the barrels they were being stored in and were absorbed into soil and groundwater. Every time it rains, sleets, or snows, the radiation from those chemicals gets dispersed. And people like Carol Williams are the ones who have to suffer the consequences.

“Somebody should be held accountable, because this has been going on for the last 70 years.”

-Carol Williams

Between 1942 and 1957, Mallinckrodt Chemical Works — based in St. Louis — enriched uranium from the Belgian Congo’s Shinkolobwe mine while under contract with the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission and the Manhattan Engineer District. The uranium processed by Mallinckrodt for the Manhattan Project was considered to be some of the purest in the world, greater than 30 percent by weight.

For example, Uranium-238, which is the most common uranium isotope, has a half-life of roughly 4.5 billion years (the time it takes for half of the atoms in a sample to decay). Just the Facts has painstakingly assembled a list of harmful contaminants which have been historically tied to rare cancers. The group has also listed all of the communities in St. Louis County that are within the Coldwater Creek watershed.

After the uranium was processed, the remaining byproducts were stored in various sites in and around St. Louis and North St. Louis County, including at what is now the St. Louis Lambert International Airport. Thousands of tons of nuclear waste was illegally dumped at what is now the West Lake landfill. Nuclear byproduct eventually ate through countless 55-gallon drums, seeping into the soil and groundwater, and dispersing into the air for the years it remained above ground.

In the ROD, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers wrote that Coldwater Creek had “potential contaminants of concern” that included “radionuclides associated with the residues of ore processing.” Before it was dredged, the creek ran along the Western edge of the airport, and continued for approximately 19 miles through municipalities like Hazelwood, Florissant, Black Jack, and unincorporated areas of North St. Louis County before discharging into the Missouri River.

Despite the toxicity of the area, Missouri state law doesn’t require property owners disclose to potential homeowners like Carol Williams that the home they’re thinking about buying is sitting on or near radioactive waste. Williams accused local officials of deliberately ignoring the plight of North St. Louis County due to its majority-black demographic.

“It hurts because it’s like they just don’t care,” Williams said.

St. Louis
Racial makeup of North St. Louis County (Data by 2010 Census)

Williams is worried that local officials appear to have disregarded the 2005 Record of Decision’s recommendations to not build any new schools or housing in the affected area (St. Louis city council members representing Northern wards, as well as St. Louis county executive Steve Stenger, did not respond to Grit Post’s multiple requests for comment).

“They’ve built 10 or 12 elementary schools. In 2011, they built schools all over. There was a big boom for real estate in 2007,” Williams said. “If you’re purchasing real estate, hundred thousand dollar homes, they’re not telling you, that would have an effect on your decision if you knew you were buying a home with contaminated waste.”

“This is something urgent that needs to be taken care of immediately. And people need to be told,” she continued. “If I had been told in ’94, when I moved here, I wouldn’t have moved here… And to stay here for 23 years and just find out through Facebook? It’s terrible. No officials are raising a red flag and saying these residents need help.”

“Somebody should be held accountable, because this has been going on for the last 70 years,” Williams added.

St. Louis
Thousands of 55-gallon drums containing radioactive waste at the St. Louis airport (photo by U.S. Department of Energy)

Williams isn’t the only person in her neighborhood whose health is rapidly deteriorating. Her neighbor, 71-year-old Dortha Lou Capps, has lived in the same home in Black Jack since 1988. Capps recalled through tears about how one of her best friends in the community suddenly stopped showing up for church several years ago, where the two saw each other on a weekly basis.

“I remember her telling me she had cancer, and then she was gone just like that,” Capps said.

More than anything else, Williams just wants to move out of the area. But she’s become increasingly frustrated with public officials’ stifling of her voice. During a public meeting, Williams said a representative with the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registration (ATSDR) told her she needed to “squash the conversation about a buyout.”

“There could be a buyout within a one to three-mile radius of Coldwater Creek. I’m within that range but [ATSDR] said, ‘What about the people that’s 4 miles away and back? thats going to depreciate the value of their homes, they won’t be able to sell them and thats going to ruin the economy,'” Williams recalled the ATSDR representative saying. “I was astonished, I said, ‘you’re putting profit over our health.’ Yes, buy us out, or buy the whole county out. We need to move, because the waste never goes away. It has a million year shelf life.”

“No one wants to talk about it. It’s just deny, deny, deny,” she added. “There’s a lot of secrecy going on around here, and they just want us to shut up and be quiet and just get sick and die. And I can’t do that.”

“There’s no state law where you have to have a disclosure of contaminants on property.”

-Senator Maria Chappelle-Nadal

One of the few public officials drawing attention to this crisis is Maria Chappelle-Nadal, a state senator who represents parts of St. Louis County. The radioactive waste in her district is a deeply personal fight for her — Chappelle-Nadal’s father used to work at the St. Louis airport, where Coldwater Creek begins, and breathed toxic air from the creek every day, eventually dying of kidney cancer. She’s conducted over 1,000 interviews over the years with people in the West Lake and Bridgeton Landfill areas, along with residents in the Coldwater Creek watershed.

On one wall of her office in the Missouri state capitol in Jefferson City, Sen. Chappelle-Nadal is showing me multiple maps detailing cancer cases in North St. Louis County. Even though there are numerous reporters outside of her door on this particular day, none of them are there to ask her about her work documenting the radioactive waste poisoning her constituents.

While she shows the maps of the contamination in her district and around North St. Louis County, Sen. Chappelle-Nadal’s receptionist walks into her office to ask if she wants to grant an interview to Fox 2 St. Louis.

“They’re the only ones allowed in here today,” Chappelle-Nadal tells her receptionist while gesturing in the direction of Grit Post staff.

Senator Maria Chappelle-Nadal (D-University City) goes over a map of radioactive waste sites in North St. Louis County in her office in the Missouri State Capitol (Photo: Grit Post)

It’s September 13, 2017, and the Missouri legislature is meeting for its veto session. One of the items on today’s docket is the state senate’s censure of Chappelle-Nadal for a hastily written Facebook comment on her private profile that was deleted almost as soon as it was posted, in which she hoped for the assassination of President Donald Trump after his press conference in which he defended neo-Nazis and white supremacists rallying in Charlottesville, Virginia as “very fine people.” Even though Chappelle-Nadal is no stranger to death threats due to her activism following the killing of Michael Brown in 2014, she received hundreds more in the wake of her comment about Trump.

Shortly after the senate gaveled in that day, Chappelle-Nadal’s colleagues would vote 28-2 to reprimand her (that same week, a Republican in the Missouri House of Representatives implied that anyone who defaced Confederate statues should be lynched. He was not repimanded).

When she’s not in Jefferson City, in her district visiting with constituents like Carol, or holding town hall meetings (she’s held over 100 on this topic alone in the last two years, with the first happening on Labor Day weekend of 2015, and the last one taking place on December 13 of 2017), Chappelle-Nadal leads a tour of the radioactive waste sites in North St. Louis County.

In the last three consecutive legislative sessions, Sen. Chappelle-Nadal has introduced two specific bills aimed at addressing the crisis in her district — one that would initiate a buyout program for homeowners in the West Lake Landfill area, and one that would require property owners disclose any risk of radioactive contaminants to buyers and lessees alike. Currently, her bills — SB 558 and SB 720 — are awaiting action in their respective committees. Neither appropriations committee chairman Dan Brown (R-Rolla) nor Commerce, Consumer Protection, Energy and the Environment chairman Ed Emery (R-Lamar) responded to Grit Post’s multiple requests for comment.

“There’s no state law where you have to have a disclosure of contaminants on property,” Sen. Chappelle-Nadal told Grit Post.

“There was a guy in my district who, when he bought his house, he had to sign a document saying that he would never complain about the smell,” she continued. “Constituents have been telling me, ‘no wonder we got such a great deal on this house. We bought this house back in 2013, thinking this is where we were going to be for 30 years, and we find out it’s right on top of Coldwater Creek and nobody fucking told us?'”

Even though Chappelle-Nadal is a Democrat, her call for a disclosure law in Missouri has bipartisan support. Senator Roy Blunt (R-Missouri), the state’s junior U.S. Senator who was recently re-elected in 2016, told Grit Post that while establishing such a law for his home state is out of his jurisdiction, he supports the measure.

“You would assume that disclosure would be the right thing to do,” Sen. Blunt said in a phone interview. “I do think the proper place for that law is at the [Missouri] state capitol, and I’m glad they’re doing that.”

St. Louis
Map of Maria Chappelle-Nadal’s state senate district, and the contaminated areas (Bridgeton Landfill, West Lake Landfill, St. Louis Airport Site, Latty Avenue site, Coldwater Creek)

However, the proposal of a buyout for affected homes is a far more controversial idea, not just with the communities themselves, but with major corporations that have a lot to lose as their liability in pending civil suits increases. Chappelle-Nadal shrugged off last year’s censure vote as powerful corporate political donors attempting to oust her from the legislature.

“Exelon, Lathrop & Gage, and Republic Services, they were trying to get rid of me,” Chappelle-Nadal said. “Republic Services has to deal with [West Lake Landfill] because its already in there, and they have to deal with the liability… Exelon, who assumed Cotter Corporation through mergers, their liability is so much greater, because their haul trucks went way beyond the landfill to get rid of that stuff.”

“Go outside of what people think are the parameters of what is a natural area to test because its so close to the creek. If the same soil characterization is found near people’s homes that’s not within that footprint, it’s going to be for real for real open season for lawsuits,” she added. “It could be in the billions.”

As it turns out, Chappelle-Nadal’s assertions that companies subject to civil penalties have it out for her may be more than mere conspiracy theory. Screenshots the senator’s constituents sent her over the years suggest an elaborate astroturfing effort on behalf of Republic Services and their subsidiaries, like Bridgeton Landfill, LLC, to simultaneously attack Chappelle-Nadal’s credibility and her proposal for the West Lake Landfill.

While members of communities adjacent to West Lake called for the nuclear waste in the landfill to be removed and shipped to a site licensed to store radioactive materials, that would increase the financial liability of Republic Services, who owns the landfill. Instead, Republic wanted the much cheaper option of permanently capping the entire site, and funded a slick PR campaign called the “Coalition to Keep Us Safe,” sponsored by a Republic subsidiary. In 2015, Twitter user @Mommentator — whose pinned tweet as of this writing casts doubt on the plan to remove West Lake waste — admitted to being paid $1,500 per month by Republic Services.

St. Louis
Screenshot of conversation in which a Missouri Twitter user admits to being paid by Republic Services for tweeting pro-Republic messaging

Aside from removing the waste, residents of the West Lake area are demanding buyouts of their homes due to the toxic emissions. Karen Nickel, the administrator of the 21,000-member West Lake Landfill Facebook group and the Just Moms STL group (and who was featured in the HBO documentary Atomic Homefront) has been pushing for a buyout package that would give West Lake homeowners fair market value for homeowners who want to move away.

The West Lake site is particularly unique in that an underground fire has been burning ceaselessly since 2010, roughly 1,000 feet away from tons of radioactive waste. Residents fear the worst if the fire isn’t contained.

“We are scared, we live in fear, we are prisoners in our own homes. We are afraid to let our children outside to play,” Nickel said at a 2016 meeting. “This is unacceptable. We live in the United States of America and in mid-Missouri, we are preparing for a Chernobyl-like event.”

Even though the toxic waste was created by the same people and originally stored at the same site before being — in the case of West Lake, illegally — dumped without proper due diligence, West Lake and Coldwater Creek are roughly seven miles apart, and the cleanup is being handled by two entirely different federal agencies. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ FUSRAP handles the Manhattan Project waste in Coldwater Creek and the 148 “vicinity properties” surrounding the area, while the Environmental Protection Agency handles West Lake.

In February, the EPA announced it would be spending $236 million cleaning up West Lake, through a combination of removing toxic materials and permanently capping the rest over a five-year period. Some residents, however, are demanding accountability for the companies responsible for improperly handling the waste that led to the contamination of the area. Last month, Reuters reported that a class-action lawsuit was being initiated against Republic Services, Exelon, Cotter Corporation, and others.

St. Louis
Map of West Lake Landfill area, and the proximity of the ongoing underground fire (Photo: Missouri Department of Natural Resources)

Sen. Chappelle-Nadal’s original buyout bill was originally designated specifically for 120 homes in the immediate vicinity of West Lake affected by toxic landfill emissions. However, Chappelle-Nadal told Grit Post that Mike Kehoe (R-Jefferson City), the state senate majority leader, amended her bill (PDF link) to make the buyout qualifications far more broad, potentially looping in homes in the Coldwater Creek watershed.

This ruffled the feathers of Just the Facts administrator Kim Visintine, who is adamantly against a “knee-jerk” buyout of homes in the Coldwater Creek watershed. Visintine referenced a detailed FUSRAP document that states the current Record of Decision does not allow for a buyout, and that a buyout program could potentially endanger future remediation efforts for approximately 270,000 residents of North St. Louis County.

“People who aren’t from the area and don’t understand are pushing for this… They aren’t thinking big-picture or long-term,” Visintine said. “What happens to the whole community? What about every other family who lives in that area? There are whole areas that are not within the Record of Decision right now that have not been tested and there are no plans to test. What happens to that subdivision that’s not in the creek where we highly suspect there is contamination and there is no plan to test it, what happens to them?”

On the subject of disclosure, Visintine, in a phone interview with Grit Post, strangely contradicted a previous position she took against Chappelle-Nadal’s 2016 legislation in a Just the Facts thread.

“If a seller does not disclose that their property is or EVER WAS contaminated, then they could be charged with a Class A Misdemeanor, which carries a penalty of up to 1 year imprisonment. This negates the positive effect of having the area remediated,” Visintine wrote on January 28, 2016. “Disclosure will drive down the market value of the remediated homes, economically devastate the area and effectively ‘trap’ residents in North County, while Coldwater Creek residents wait for another area that is not yet contaminated to complete their buyout phase.”

But on March 10, 2018, Visintine said requiring disclosure of contaminants was “a great idea.”

“I think if there’s contamination found in a home that’s a home that’s tested and found, it should absolutely be disclosed, absolutely we would advocate for that,” she said.

Visintine stressed her opposition to Chappelle-Nadal’s proposed buyout was mainly scientific and not economic, arguing that a buyout would change acceptable levels of radiation and further complicate ongoing tests and remediation efforts in the Coldwater Creek watershed. However, a letter Visintine sent to all 163 state representatives last year lamented that a buyout would “cause unnecessary blight and economically devastate our beloved hometown.”

St. Louis
Kim Visintine’s letter to Missouri lawmakers opposing Sen. Chappelle-Nadal’s bill

Other detailed comments Visintine wrote in Just the Facts regarding her opposition to a buyout option also show a concern for the local economy if a buyout were to take place in Coldwater Creek.

“[H]istorical home buyouts are ‘abandoned in place’ … meaning if your neighbor’s home was bought out because it was on the creek it would just be left as-is,” Visintine wrote in a comment on a March 8 post. “If you live in an area that has the creek on multiple sides (because of tributaries)… then you can be left in a block of houses with all of the homes around you being bought out at[sic] abandoned.”

Visintine’s preference would be for money to be allocated through the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA), which would help cover the cost of the expensive cancer treatments she and others in Just the Facts are enduring.

“Cancer is unfortunately very expensive,” Visintine told Grit Post. “[RECA] would give us some funds back, and in addition to that it would allow us to try to receive grants to set up screening clinics and health educational programs, and that funding could go back into the community.”

Even though Visintine — a mother, a nurse and an engineer — currently lives in Detroit, the issue hits home for her, as she and her high school classmates spent their formative years playing in and around Coldwater Creek. Her mother also still owns a home in North St. Louis County. Kim’s first son, Zach, was born in 2000 with a rare brain tumor that occurs in less than two percent of births. He tragically died at the age of 6.

St. Louis
Kim Visintine and her son, Zach, before he passed away at age 6 (Photo: Kim Visintine for Grit Post)

Visintine herself suffers from a rare thyroid condition linked to legacy waste in the watershed. She and a handful of other St. Louis natives who all knew each other in their adolescent years decided to start Coldwater Creek Just the Facts Please in 2011, after realizing many of their friends were suffering from various cancers. She and her colleagues looked at the radiation and the confirmed contaminants in Coldwater Creek, and matched them with illnesses tied to specific radioactive isotopes.

“Thorium is bone-seeking and soft-tissue seeking, so it does tend to affect your visceral organs. Colon cancer is a big one. And we have a subset of colon cancer in our community, which is appendix cancer,” Visintine said. “According to scientific journals, the chances of contracting appendix cancer is one in 200,000. The population in and around Coldwater Creek is about 300,000, and there are 50 of us who have it.”

Currently, there is no data from any government agency that directly links the radioactive waste in the Coldwater Creek area to health problems. Dr. Faisal Khan, director of the St. Louis County Department of Public Health, told Grit Post that there’s currently no research on Coldwater Creek’s health effects beyond what Just the Facts has compiled on Facebook. The first-ever comprehensive study by St. Louis County on the public health impact of Coldwater Creek on residents who grew up in the area during peak exposure is currently in the peer review process, according to Visintine.

However, in 2014, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) conducted a study of cancer rates over a 15-year period in eight ZIP codes in the watershed. The DHSS paper found that the occurrence of various types of cancer, including leukemia and cancers of the breast, prostate, kidney, and bladder were statistically higher in those eight ZIP codes in comparison to the rest of Missouri.

The academic credentials of Just the Facts administrators are undoubtedly impressive. Diane Schanzenbach, an economist who previously served as director of the Brookings Institute’s Hamilton Project, conducts the health survey for the group, in which more than 5,000 people in the vicinity of the creek and its tributaries have reported health problems. Other administrators have backgrounds in various fields like accounting and architecture, and boast degrees from Harvard, MIT, Princeton, Wellesley, Yale, and other prominent universities. Just the Facts has shared its research with FUSRAP and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) in an effort to make the remediation process more efficient.

However, despite the passionate commitment both Sen. Chappelle-Nadal and Just the Facts have toward the communities they represent, the lingering racial tensions that have persisted in Missouri for decades have been enflamed by the cloud of toxic death slowly engulfing North St. Louis County. Chappelle-Nadal accuses Just the Facts of couching racial prejudice in science and excluding the African-American community, while the prevailing opinion of many of the mostly white Just the Facts activists is that Chappelle-Nadal is a “grandstander” who is antagonizing the only federal agencies lending a helping hand.

“I am very non violent but would slap the shit out of that bitch if I ever saw her.”

-Karen Tyler Edge, member of Coldwater Creek Just the Facts

This conflict reached a boiling point during a FUSRAP and ATSDR meeting in February. Chappelle-Nadal told Grit Post that many of her constituents came to that meeting in the hopes of having questions answered about the health problems they were facing, while federal officials attempted to limit the question-and-answer session to the soil testing and cleanup processes.

When Sen. Chappelle-Nadal chastised ATSDR representative Erin Evans for not properly addressing her constituents’ concerns, she was accosted by local resident Carl Chappell (no relation), a legally blind man who lost his son to complications from radioactive waste, who put his hands on her shoulders, leered inches from her face, and told her, “shut up.”

Chappelle-Nadal continued with her comments, then confronted Chappell after handing off the mic. At around the 8:25 mark of the below video, Chappell towers over Chappelle-Nadal, who puts her hand on his chest to reclaim her personal space. After he jumps back, members of the crowd stand between the two, and Chappell finally sits back down when a young African American man attempts to de-escalate the confrontation. Chappelle-Nadal is then heard yelling, “Never in your life tell me to shut up. Never. Don’t ever tell me to shut up.”

That confrontation drew widespread condemnation from Just the Facts, of which Carl Chappell is a member. Members of the group reacted by calling Sen. Chappelle-Nadal a “bitch,” a “piece of shit,” a “thug representative,” and “pure evil.”

“She don’t represent me or anyone that looks like me,” wrote Just the Facts member Michelle Gholson Koerber, who is white. “I know where her agenda lies.”

“I am very non violent but would slap the shit out of that bitch if I ever saw her,” commented Karen Tyler Edge. “Her family and friends are not dead. She is rude crude and so uninformed.” (Kim Visintine was one of 15 group members who liked Edge’s comment)

In a comment to the Missouri Times — a small, online-only community paper that boasts two full-time employees — Visintine described Chappell as “an elderly man that simply tapped her on the shoulder in order to get her attention.”

However, Chappelle-Nadal maintains she felt it was necessary to stand up for constituents like Carol Williams, who are slowly dying from cancer and getting essentially no help from their government.

“My perspective is, they’re not doing good enough,” Chappelle-Nadal told Grit Post. “I was listening to them, I said, this is fucking bullshit, because this is so shallow. this is like really shallow information. And people should be getting more answers. They were saying, ‘well, we’re not here to deal with the health aspect of things.’ And everybody was there to hear about the health aspect of things.”

Despite Carol Williams contracting cancer sometime between 1994 and 2015, Kim Visintine argues that because the piles of waste stored in the open air have been cleared, and because Coldwater Creek has been dredged, the risk of Coldwater Creek residents becoming sick through radiation exposure who moved to the area after the 1990s is basically zero. The dominant opinion in Just the Facts is that the bulk of the health problems in the Coldwater Creek watershed are felt by baby boomers and older gen-Xers who came of age between the 1960s and the 1980s, before federal cleanup efforts began.

“We believe peak exposure happened when we were children in the area. It’s not the current population,” Visintine said. “And that’s what our maps show as well.”

St. Louis
The great flood of 1993 (Photo: Larry Williams/St. Louis Post-Dispatch)
St. Louis
2015 flood in St. Louis County (Photo: Sid Hastings/St. Louis Post-Dispatch

In addressing concerns about whether or not new construction in the Coldwater Creek area was bringing contaminants out of toxic soil, Visintine referred back to FUSRAP’s frequently asked questions document, which points out the Army Corps of Engineers’ testing is within a ten-year flood plain (Visintine’s group is pushing for testing to be expanded to a 50-year flood plain). This would also mean the construction ban in the Corps’ 2005 Record of Decision is in that same flood plain.

“To determine sampling locations, the USACE reviews historical data and aerial photographs to look for changes in topography, and evidence of being affected by a 10-year flood,” page 7 of the document reads.

But when it comes to scientific methodology, Chappelle-Nadal disagrees with FUSRAP’s assessment of flood plain risk, pointing out the recent frequency of typically once-in-a-century floods in the St. Louis Area. She also suggests the reason FUSRAP hasn’t yet found contaminants on any of the homes in the Coldwater Creek area is due to the narrow ten-year flood plain testing limit.

“My office did a 70-year climatology study to see what the probability of exposure was in the migration of the air and water and the soil. The number of times that people were wrong about flood plains was enormous,” Chapelle-Nadal said. “The 1993 flood was not predicted whatsoever. The 2015 flood was not predicted. So when people used that term back in the 1990s, they were all speaking in terms of a small number of years for a flood plain, and it was never accurate.”

While Visintine argues that buying out properties in the Coldwater Creek area would change the community from residential to recreational or commercial, thereby changing acceptable levels of radiation, Chappelle-Nadal says that is “flatly untrue.”

“It doesn’t matter what the hell the standard is, if anybody is near that level of danger, whether its industrial, residential, or the buisness sector, everyone should be made aware of that,” Chappelle-Nadal said. “That information should be disclosed to everyone, even if it’s half of what the dangerous levels are.”

“As a legislator, I see the way people couch language. It’s racist in origin. It’s controlling. Part of racism is control. Controlling who is included in these lawsuits. Controlling who has access to remediation,” she said. “People in African American communities have a very high probability of contamination. In absolutely any home found with contamination, there should be at least the option of buyout if a person wants a buyout. If you don’t want a buyout, that’s fine.”

Chappelle-Nadal says while her bills are a start, she wants the federal government to undo a critical rule change in how acceptable radiation levels are set. Chappelle-Nadal pointed out that in the 1970s, Congress lowered acceptable levels of radiation, but the EPA subsequently raised them to levels too dangerous for human exposure. Alarmingly, EPA administrator Scott Pruitt issued “guidance” last year changing acceptable radiation levels to an even higher threshold for drinking water.

On March 2, Carol Williams was preparing for another biopsy following an inconclusive biopsy on an infection in her neck three weeks ago. Sen. Chappelle-Nadal has visited Williams at her home to check on her, but says it’s difficult to understand her verbal speech, as she’s still learning how to talk even six months after her tongue was removed. Williams now does most of her communicating via text message.

“It’s difficult to eat without a tongue. I have to push my food to the back of my mouth to swallow. I can’t eat any meat, just soft food,” Williams texted a few days before her upcoming biopsy. “I’m tired of them cutting my neck thus[sic] will b the 3rd time.”

On March 4, I texted Carol to ask how her biopsy went.

“Not good at all,” she responded, roughly 24 hours later.

 

Carl Gibson is co-publisher of Grit Post. His work has previously been published in The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Houston Chronicle, Al-Jazeera America, and NPR, among others. Follow him on Twitter @crgibs or send him an email at carl at gritpost dot com.

Katelyn Kivel is a contributing editor for Grit Post in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Follow her on Twitter @KatelynKivel.

Ken Klippenstein is Grit Post’s national security reporter. He can be reached on Twitter @kenklippenstein or email: kenneth.klippenstein@gmail.com.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *