Do residents living in neighborhoods near a former EPA Superfund site 30 miles west of St. Louis deserve compensation for being exposed to radioactive materials? The answer to that question could very well be “Yes.”
Located adjacent State Highway 94 in a once-rural section of St. Charles County, Mo., the Weldon Spring (Mo.) Site was contaminated during the production of 2, 4, 6 – trinitrotoluene (TNT) and 2, 4 and 2,6 Dinitrotoluene (DNT) by the U.S. Department of Army from 1941 to 1945. It was the enrichment of uranium ore and thorium processing that took place from 1958 to 1966, however, that resulted in workers at the Atomic Energy Commission site being exposed to dangerously-high levels of radiation. In 1987, the site made the list of the EPA’s most-hazardous properties. NOTE: More details about the site’s history, according to the DOE, can be found here.
The Weldon Spring Site has a lot in common with other trouble-filled sites under the purview of the federal government — in this case, the U.S. Department of Energy. One is the Fernald Site 22 miles north of Cincinnati.
Though it operated on a smaller scale than its Show-Me State sister site, workers there are said to have performed largely the same tasks and, on occasion, handled overflow from Weldon Spring.
According to a report in The New York Times, those same workers were parties to a 1994 settlement with DOE that guarantees them lifetime benefits expected to cost the federal government at least $20 million. Similarly, according to a news release April 4, workers at the Missouri site were parties to a settlement with the U.S. Department of Labor that has paid them more than $39 million in compensation to date.
When one compares how residents living near the two sites have fared, one finds Ohioans better off — at least financially — than their neighbors almost 400 miles to the west.
In 1989, according to the same Times article, some 14,000 residents living near the Fernald Site reached a $78 million settlement with DOE. Conversely, no lawsuits have been filed and no settlements have been reached on behalf of any of the tens of thousands of residents living near the Missouri site.
Though officials with the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services have, for more than three months, refused to answer questions about their controversial 2011 Weldon Spring Cancer Report and have done virtually nothing to inform the media or the public — not even the people living in five zip codes where leukemia and leukemia death rates were studied — about the findings of their report, I suspect personal-injury lawyers will find at least two statements in the report too tempting to pass up.
The first statement (below) echoes bureaucratic doublespeak:
Based on updated data from the 5-zip code area, the total number of leukemia deaths and the total number of leukemia deaths in those age 65 and older appears to be significantly higher than expected (Table 4 updated) but the actual leukemia death rates in the 5-zip code area were not significantly different from the statewide leukemia death rates (Table B).
The second statement (below) appears a short while later in the report and leaves one feeling perplexed:
Based on this analysis, we have concluded that there is no increased environmental risk of developing leukemia in the five ZIP-code area during 1996-2004 over that of the entire state.
Sadly, four out of five
dentists who chew gum Missouri state legislators I contacted about the report seem inclined to ignore it completely, to discount it’s findings, to procrastinate about it and/or to simply shoot the messenger — me! — delivering questions about it. Regardless of their predictable election-year reactions, the controversy is not likely to go away.
As I reported in an update following my attendance — as an observer, not a prospective client — at a litigant-recruitment meeting in St. Louis two months ago, the same group of New York City-based lawyers who represented first responders after 9/11 has already filed one lawsuit related to radiation exposure in the Coldwater Creek area of St. Louis. In addition, they’ve dropped some super-sized hints about the possibility of even more lawsuits — perhaps involving residents living near the Weldon Spring Site!
Finally, it’s worth pointing out that those attorneys are holding their second Coldwater Creek “rainmaking session” Wednesday at 6 p.m. Central at the Renaissance St. Louis Airport Hotel. The graphic at right holds the details.
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