Hawley seeks compensation fund for radioactive waste victims

Jim Gaffney grew up playing in and around Coldwater Creek and, in recent years, has experienced very serious health issues.
Published: Jul. 13, 2023 at 6:42 PM CDT
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ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOV) - Jim Gaffney grew up playing in and around Coldwater Creek and, in recent years, has experienced very serious health issues.

“I have lung, heart and kidney failure,” he said.

Gaffney said he didn’t suspect that the creek could be the source of his and others’ illnesses until his son, who also grew up playing in Coldwater Creek, developed thyroid cancer.

“It’s just too much coincidence,” said Gaffney.

On Wednesday, the community advocacy group, Just Moms STL, released a trove of government documents it obtained, which date back to the 1940′s. The documents show the federal government and its contractors working in the nuclear weapons program were aware of spills and contamination from radioactive waste that put the public at risk but didn’t warn the public.

From 1942-1957 uranium was processed in downtown St. Louis for the nuclear weapons program. Radioactive waste from the process was stored near Lambert St. Louis International Airport. Documents showed as early as 1949, the federal government knew barrels at the storage site were leaking radioactive waste into Coldwater Creek, and it was allowed to continue.

Reaction to the contents of the documents came today at a press conference held at the Weldon Spring EPA Superfund site. A group of political leaders, community activists and north St. Louis County residents who got sick after living near contaminated sites spoke out.

“Our region has been so desensitized to the insanity that has happened to us,” said Missouri State Representative Tricia Byrnes of Wentzville.

In 2018, an agency within the CDC, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), determined that those who had increased exposure to radioactive waste in Coldwater Creek were at an elevated risk of certain cancers. Based on the information in the documents, many now believe there’s a stronger connection between the contamination and illnesses.

“If the federal government has poisoned the air and the water and the soil that has made so many people sick, there is a simple and just solution. The federal government should pay the medical bills,” said Senator Josh Hawley.

Congresswoman Cori Bush released a statement, saying in part:

The Senate passed legislation that Hawley authorized, calling for the federal government to pay for the cleanup of Jana Elementary School after one study determined it was contaminated with radioactive waste. But Hawley now says victims of exposure to the waste should be compensated.

“So, I will introduce legislation on the floor of the Senate to provide funding for every member of this community who has gotten sick,” he said.

Hawley didn’t mention a time frame on when he’d introduce the legislation. A town hall meeting is planned to provide further information on the contents of the newly released federal documents. It will be held on August 2 at 6:30 p.m. at the New Melle Community Center.