Radioactive Waste Dangers Surface Again in Saint Louis

KSDK-TV’s Leisa Zigman shared a series of investigative reports this week about cancer clusters many believe stem from piles of radioactive waste being dumped in the St. Louis area decades ago.

Zigman’s first report for the NBC affiliate (above) highlighted a cancer cluster map of St. Louis and spotlighted dumping near St. Louis’ Lambert International Airport and toxic runoff into nearby Coldwater Creek.

Her second report (below) focused on the Westlake Landfill, where a reported 8,000 tons of radioactive waste was allowed to be dumped in a flood plain, close to public water sources and without any barriers or other protective measures installed.

Zigman’s reports dovetail nicely with an exclusive story I broke 54 weeks ago about a controversial report about cancer rates among people living in the vicinity of the Department of Energy’s Weldon Spring Site in St. Charles County, Mo.  The site had been placed on the EPA’s National Priorities List in 1987 because of the potential for groundwater contamination to adversely affect a drinking water well field less than a mile away that served 60,000 users in the area.

Uphill Battle

Click to read reports in my series, “Uphill Battle for Answers.”

Likewise, her reports complement the handful of follow-up efforts I’ve shared in my series, Uphill Battle for Answers.

Among my reports, I predicted that radiation exposure-related lawsuits were on the horizon after attending a meeting in St. Louis during which a gaggle of New York City personal-injury lawyers were hunting for potential clients.

In addition, I reported on how I had reached the conclusion that several Missouri state legislators seemed less interested in cancer dangers affecting people in their districts than they were in passing measures having to do with jumping jacks and butterflies.

Finally, after investigating similarities between the Weldon Spring Site and a “sister” site in Ohio, I used a headline to ask the question, Do Residents Living Near Weldon Spring Site Deserve Compensation for Radiation Exposure?

Now that KSDK-TV has entered the fray by reporting on this topic, I expect more questions — and more reports — will follow.  Stay tuned!

UPDATE 2/7/2013 at 8:38 p.m. Central:  Apparently, a handful of Missouri state legislators — including one mentioned in my post March 26, 2012 — paid attention to the KSDK-TV report and decided to unveil some of what Culture Vigilante Lisa Payne-Naeger calls “Yankee Doodle Legislation” requesting the U.S. Congress transfer authority for the remediation of the West Lake Landfill from the EPA to the Corps of Engineers’ FUSRAP project with the urgent, related request that the wastes be excavated from the Missouri River flood plain and be transported to a licensed radioactive waste facility, away from water and away from people.  It’s a start, I guess.

"Three Days In August" Promotional PhotoBob McCarty is the author of Three Days In August: A U.S. Army Special Forces Soldier’s Fight For Military Justice, a nonfiction book that’s available in paperback and ebook via most online booksellers, including Amazon.com. His second book, The CLAPPER MEMO, is coming soon was released May 2013.

KSDK-TV to Highlight Radiation Dangers in St Louis Area

Uphill BattleNEWS ALERT:  Barely one year after I scooped the local news media with my 2012 report, Missouri Health Agency Officials Refuse to Answer Questions About New Weldon Spring Cancer Report, I’ve learned KSDK-TV will broadcast an investigative report on the alleged impact radioactive waste sites are having on people’s health in the St. Louis area.

According to a promotional spot I watched on the NBC affiliate, investigative reporter Leisa Zigman’s first report on the topic is scheduled to air Thursday.

If you’re interested in this topic, I encourage you to read the reports in my series, Uphill Battle for Answers, and then let your elected officials know you want answers — especially if you live in an area close to one of the St. Louis area sites where radiation hazards exist.

"Three Days In August" Promotional PhotoBob McCarty is the author of Three Days In August: A U.S. Army Special Forces Soldier’s Fight For Military Justice, a nonfiction book that’s available in paperback and ebook via most online booksellers, including Amazon.com. His second book, The CLAPPER MEMO, is coming soon was released May 2013.

Do Residents Living Near Weldon Spring Site Deserve Compensation for Radiation Exposure?

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.”

Click image to read related stories.

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.

This sign greets visitors as they enter the complex surrounding the “rock pile” at the Weldon Spring Site.

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.

CRASS COMMERCIAL MESSAGE:  Order a copy of my book, Three Days In August: A U.S. Army Special Forces Soldier’s Fight For Military Justice.

Missouri Health Agency Officials Refuse to Answer Questions About New Weldon Spring Cancer Report

On March 11, 2011, a major earthquake off the coast of Japan triggered a tsunami that, in addition to killing more than 15,000 people, contributed to the disaster at the Fukushima Daini Nuclear Power Plant — the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986.  After watching the Fukushima disaster unfold for three weeks, I began to wonder about all things nuclear, including the Weldon Spring Site, located in a once-rural area 30 miles west of St. Louis.

According to the Department of Energy’s history of the Weldon Spring Site, the site was placed on the EPA’s National Priorities List in 1987 because of the potential for groundwater contamination to adversely affect a drinking water well field less than a mile away that served 60,000 users in the area.  That same year, DOE began cleanup actions. Most of the soils were removed and deposited into a 42-acre disposal cell located on-site in the vicinity of the former feed materials plant.

What was it, exactly, that required cleaning?

According to the summary of a nine-page document published by the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services and  known unofficially as the 2005 Weldon Spring Cancer Report, the Weldon Spring Site in St. Charles County, Mo., 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 and from enrichment of uranium ore and thorium processing by the Atomic Energy Commission from 1958 to 1966.

Also contained in the 2005 report was a call for follow-up testing to be conducted in response to concerns that radiological and chemical contamination related to the Weldon Spring Site might be negatively impacting the health of residents in the area.  Specifically, the report’s authors recommended “the Cancer Inquiry Program should continue to monitor the cancer incidence and mortality rates in Weldon Spring and its surrounding areas.”

Ever curious, I decided to find out if the “continue to monitor” recommendation had been taken to heart by MDHSS decision-makers.

Gravel-covered stairs lead to the top of the 75-foot-tall disposal cell at the Weldon Spring Site.

On March 24, 2011, I contacted the agency via email and asked if a new report was taking shape.  Then-Communications Director Jacqueline Lapine responded by telling me that an update to the 2005 report would be published in December 2011.

During the next nine months, I checked with her several times on the status of the report and was told each time that it was still on schedule.  Then, just after 5 o’clock Dec. 29, 2011, a message from Gena Terlizzi arrived in my mailbox.  Included as an attachment to the message from Terlizzi, a woman who had only recently replaced Lapine as the agency’s communications director, was a copy of the new report, known officially as the Analysis of Leukemia Incidence and Mortality Data for St. Charles County, Weldon Spring and Surrounding Areas December 2011 (Update to April 2005 Report) and unofficially as the “Weldon Spring Update” or “2011 Weldon Spring Cancer Inquiry Report.”

I read the new report and found it contains two noteworthy statements in its “Updated Analysis” section on page two.  The first appears below:

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).

While the first noteworthy statement resembles bureaucratic doublespeak, the second statement (below) 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.

Together, the two statements combine to raise at least one serious question in my mind:

Should the report’s conclusions about the total number of leukemia deaths and the total number of leukemia deaths among people 65 and older warrant concern among St. Charles County residents, especially those living within the five zip codes (63301, 63303, 63304, 63366 and 63376) targeted by the study?

With that question in my mind, I fired off another email message to MDHSS shortly after noon Central Dec. 30.  In it, I asked several questions, including the two below:

MDHSS officials buried the Weldon Spring Cancer Inquiry Report near the bottom of the “Data & Statistics” page of the agency’s website.

1.  Can you tell me why, in both the 2005 report and the 2011 Weldon Spring Update, MDHSS has looked only at leukemia deaths instead of deaths attributed to a wider variety of cancers? and

2.  I noticed MDHSS has not posted the 2011 Weldon Spring Update on its website or issued a news release about the findings.  Do you plan to issue a news release about it and/or share information contained in the 2011 Weldon Spring Update with residents who live within the five zip codes studied?  If so, when and how?

Worth noting:  I discovered a link to the PDF version of the 2011 report a short time after sending my questions to Terlizzi.  The fact that MDHSS officials had buried it — without explanation, among a half-dozen “special reports” at the bottom of the Data & Statistics page on the MDHSS website — prompted me to let question #2 stand.  SEE UPDATE #2 BELOW.

On Jan. 3 at 3:36 p.m. Central, I received the following response from Terlizzi:

Hi Bob,

We don’t have any additional information or comments aside from what’s included in the report.

Thank you,

Gena

Surprised by the brief response, I placed a follow-up phone call and sent a follow-up email message to Terlizzi, hoping to get some clarification.  Both went unreturned.

As an Air Force public affairs officer during the 1980s and ’90s, I learned quite a bit through firsthand experience dealing with the public and the news media on serious topics, including environmental health concerns related to nuclear-capable military operations.  Among the most important things I learned was that public relations strategies that involve covering up, sugarcoating or otherwise trying to hide bad news from the public never turn out well and should be avoided at all cost.  Those who employ such shortsighted strategies end up facing more questions.

In the case of MDHSS, the agency’s no-comment stance caused two immediate questions to form in my mind:

Are state health agency officials trying to hide something from the public?  and

Do residents living within the target zip codes deserve (1) to have the findings contained in the 2011 report shared with them in a proactive fashion and (2) to get answers to their questions about the report?

While I hope the answer to the first question is “No,” I know the answer to the second question is a resounding “YES!”

* * *

I began this piece some 1,100 words ago by mentioning the disaster at Fukushima.  That event, however, wasn’t the only one to cause me to be interested in the Weldon Spring Site.

During more than ten years of living in the St. Louis area, I’ve heard many people joke about not allowing their children to drink from the water fountains at Francis Howell High School, located a stone’s throw from the Weldon Spring Site.  Most recently, however, I received a phone call.

From the top of the disposal cell at the Weldon Spring Site, one can see nearby Francis Howell High School.

A few days before Halloween 2010, a 40-something mother of two who lives near the Weldon Spring Site contacted me with concerns about what she perceived to be an unusually-high number of cancer cases in her neighborhood.

During multiple conversations over six days, she told me she knew of several people who were either battling cancer or had recently died from the disease. All lived within three blocks of her home in a subdivision of approximately 150 homes, one of many new housing areas to spring up out of farmland in fast-growing St. Charles County during the 1980s and 1990s.

What concerned her most was the fact that the types of cancer involved were varied and included several types of breast cancer, colorectal cancer, lung cancer and a rare blood cancer.  I took some notes, told the woman I would look into the matter and agreed not to share her name with readers if/when I published anything about the serious subject of our conversations. In reality, though, I didn’t expect our conversations to lead to anything.

Five months later, she contacted me again and told me that another of her neighbors — a child living two blocks away — had been diagnosed with cancer. In addition, she told me about several more cases of children attending schools close to her home who had died from different forms of brain cancer. I filed the information just in case.

Some might consider information provided by a nameless suburban housewife unreliable and label it “rumor” and “hearsay” — and I can’t blame them.  I was skeptical myself.

Another two weeks passed, and the same woman forwarded more information to me in the form of links to two articles.

One link led me to an article published March 7, 2001, in St. Louis’ Riverfront Times, the Voice Media Group-owned alternative weekly newspaper in which one can occasionally find a well-researched, long-form investigative piece.  This particular article contained several hard-to-ignore paragraphs, but none stood out more than the one below which contains the observations of a Catholic priest, Father Gerry Kleba:

Last spring, Kleba’s vow of obedience brought him to a new assignment as a senior associate pastor in the placid suburbs of St. Charles County. What he saw shocked him. “This parish has more sick and dying children than I have ever experienced in my 35 years as a priest,” he told the new social-concerns committee.

The second link led to an article published May 24, 2010, in the Omaha (Neb.) World-Herald.  It highlighted the story of a couple who, before moving to Nebraska, lived for four years near the Weldon Spring Site. They said they believed environmental toxins from the site were responsible for their two sons’ cases of leukemia.

While the two articles are, at a minimum, thought-provoking, they didn’t convince me of the need to write anything about the Weldon Spring Site. But I remained curious.

During the next few months, I had several off-the-record conversations with long-time residents of the area — people I thought might know something about the subject at hand. One pointed me in the direction of Fernald, Ohio, a small township 18 miles northwest of Cincinnati that was home to a “sister site” of Weldon Spring that had also operated as a feed materials plant.

The Fernald Site was the subject of a New York Times article dated July 27, 1994, that offered some interesting information, including the two tidbits below:

1. The Department of Energy settled a lawsuit in 1994 with former Fernald Site workers, guaranteeing them lifetime medical monitoring paid for by the government at an expected cost to the government of at least $20 million; and

2. In 1989, DOE reached a settlement of $78 million in a lawsuit brought against the government by 14,000 residents of Fernald who contended that their property had been contaminated by uranium.

A source familiar with both the Weldon Spring and Fernald sites told me the 1994 settlement mentioned in the Times story would serve as a precursor of sorts to federal legislation passed 11 years later that would provide up to $400,000 in payments for former nuclear workers and/or their survivors nationwide as well as lifetime medical care.  Among those covered were individuals who had worked at the Weldon Spring Site.

Shortly before publishing this story, that same source told me at least two lawsuits similar to the $78 million Fernald lawsuit have been filed on behalf of citizens living near Apollo/Parks Township, Pa., about 15 miles northeast of Pittsburgh, where activities similar to those conducted at Weldon Spring and Fernald took place for many years.  Though I could find no evidence of any mass tort lawsuits being filed by residents living near the Weldon Spring Site, the same source tells me a group of lawyers is studying that costly possibility.

FINAL THOUGHT:  I know the information shared in this piece might fray some nerves.  All must know, however, that the folks at MDHSS bear responsibility for this story being published.  Had they answered my straight-forward questions in the first place, I might not have felt the need to search for answers on my own; I might not have published a story at all; and I might have continued living in ignorant bliss smack in the heart of one of the targeted zip codes.

Click here to read more-recent stories about the Weldon Spring site.

UPDATE #1 1/25/12 at 2:17 p.m. Central:  Talk Radio Alert: ‘The Dana Show’ Friday Afternoon.

UPDATE #2 1/27/12 at 2:12 p.m. Central:  A reader pointed out to me that clicking on the link (“Weldon Spring Cancer Report Inquiry”) at the bottom of the MDHSS website’s “Data & Statistics” page results in the 2005 report being downloaded.  I tried it and found the reader is right as of this moment.  That being the case, state health agency officials appear to be even less transparent than I thought.  They haven’t even buried the new report on their website.

FOLLOW-UP to UPDATE #1:  Finished the appearance with Dana.  As soon as a podcast is available, I’ll try to post a link to it here.  Go to “The Dana Show” page and select the podcast labeled “1-27-12 Bob McCarty.”

‘Gas Strike’ Fueled by Emotion and Ignorance (Update)

This morning, I came across a Facebook event, titled “GAS STRIKE,” that nearly a half-million people have signed up to “attend” today.  Sadly, their effort — which involves boycotting gas stations for one day — is a misguided effort driven more by emotion and ignorance than common sense.

Oil companies produce the oil and make it available on the marketplace, but the price is set by the markets in much the same way as farmers accept the going rate for commodities such as corn and soybeans.

Americans who want “change” in the form of lower gas prices at the pump should stop venting their outrage against oil companies and the small business owners who operate gas stations and convenience stores across the nation.  After all, it didn’t work when tried June 19.  Instead, they should demand President Barack Obama and his underlings — a group that includes Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Energy Secretary Dr. David Chu and everyone in the EPA — end their war of regulation and red tape that is preventing U.S. oil and natural gas companies from tapping domestic sources of energy.

No one but the Obama Administration is responsible for gasoline prices reaching $4 per gallon and higher. If Obama wants to improve the everyday lives of Americans via lower fuel prices, he needs to conduct business in a way that allows more drilling onshore and offshore so that we can actually reduce our dependence on foreign oil and keep 9.2 million Americans gainfully employed and contributing to the economy.

To learn more about how gas prices are set, read The Facts about Rising Gas Prices, an Energy Tomorrow blog post published yesterday.

If you need help paying for gasoline until the Obama Administration ends its war against “Big Oil,” buy a “Will work for fuel” t-shirt.

UPDATE 3/10/11 at 12:28 p.m. Central: Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) makes my point in a just-released video (below).  He even mentions Obama’s statement about skyrocketing electricity prices, a topic I covered in this Nov. 3, 2008, post.

FYI: If you enjoy this blog and want to keep reading stories like the one above, show your support by using the “Support Bob” tool at right. Thanks in advance for your support!

Ethanol Decision Could Do More Harm Than Good

Two months ago, I warned you about President Barack Obama’s EPA blending politics and science.  Now, according to an EPA news release issued Wednesday, the “blending” process appears to be complete:

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today waived a limitation on selling fuel that is more than 10 percent ethanol for model year 2007 and newer cars and light trucks. The waiver applies to fuel that contains up to 15 percent ethanol – known as E15 – and only to model year 2007 and newer cars and light trucks. This represents the first of a number of actions that are needed from federal, state and industry towards commercialization of E15 gasoline blends. EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson made the decision after a review of the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) extensive testing and other available data on E15’s impact on engine durability and emissions.

What does that mean for American consumers accustomed to gasoline that already contains up to 10 percent ethanol?  Plenty!  In fact, the decision could do more harm than good, according to Jack Gerard, president and CEO of the American Petroleum Institute.

In August, Gerard said this decision — made even before key safety and effectiveness studies have been completed — “could threaten vehicle performance and safety, void manufacturers’ warranties, confuse consumers – and create a public backlash against renewable fuels.”

“Consumers need to be assured that the gasoline they purchase will not damage vehicles, void warranties or erode air quality gains,” Gerard added.  “And we as an industry want to continue producing safe and reliable fuels for consumers now and into the future.”

To learn more about the ethanol issue, watch the Reason.tv video below:

Borrowing a variant of some now-famous words Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart used to craft his opinion about a landmark 1964 case, I say, “I know it when I see it!” and what I see is this: Corn Ethanol Equals Cornography!

UPDATE 10/16/10 at 5:17 p.m. Central: Cross-posted at BigGovernment.com.

Nuclear Weapons Facility in Texas on Lockdown! (Update)


The Department of Energy National Nuclear Security Administration PANTEX Plant, the nation’s only nuclear weapons assembly and disassembly facility located 17 miles northeast of Amarillo, Texas, is on lockdown, according to a news release from the facility, the text of which appears below:

NEWS RELEASE

Pantex Activates Emergency Response Organization

The Plant is in a lockdown status and the situation is being evaluated in order to facilitate security actions. Pantex employees are sheltered-in-place.

Pantex’s response effort is being conducted by the Emergency Response Organization, a highly trained group of employees with detailed knowledge of plant operations and emergency response procedures. These employees represent plant functions such as security, logistics, safety, medical response, radiological assessment, firefighting, operations and public information.

The emergency responders’ top priorities are the safety of the public, workers and the environment, as well as ensuring security is maintained.

Pantex is also in the process of establishing communication links with various local, state and federal government agencies that will work with Pantex and communicate with the public during the response to this event.

Public information for this event is currently being coordinated by the Pantex Public Affairs Organization, which will release additional information as it becomes available.  Public Affairs will notify the media regarding scheduling interviews and/or news conferences.

UPDATE #1 1/15/10 at 10:15 a.m. Central: I’ve learned that the facility is managed and operated by B&W Pantex and that the plant’s mission, in addition to assembly and disassembly of nuclear weapons, includes the following: maintenance, modification and evaluation of nuclear weapons; interim storage of plutonium pits from dismantled nuclear weapons; and fabrication of high explosive components for nuclear weapons.  The PANTEX web site, http://www.pantex.com, was, at last check, down.

UPDATE #2 1/15/10 at 10:50 a.m. Central: Fox News reports that the lockdown stemmed from hunters being spotted too close to the facility.  It will be interesting to see if the hunters are just “good ol’ boys” or would-be terrorists conducting a so-called “dry run” to see (1) how close they can get to the facility and (2) how local officials responded to the event.  I’ll consider this “closed” unless I hear something to disprove the Fox News report.

UPDATE #3 1/15/10 at 11:48 a.m. Central: According to a local television report published at 11:38 a.m. locla, the lockdown at PANTEX is over, though officials at the plant would not disclose the nature of the security incident that prompted the lockdown.

UPDATE #4 1/15/10 at 12:58 p.m. Central: AFP confirms via Carson County Sheriff Tam Terry that duck hunters were duck hunters.

Developing…