Tag Archives: St. Charles

Will Missouri Legislators Finally Decide to Pay Attention to Radioactive Waste Issues Outside of Saint Louis County?

Several national news media outlets, including CBS Evening News and the The Los Angeles Times, have reported recently about the inherent dangers of radioactive waste in the St. Louis County neighborhoods along Coldwater Creek colliding with an underground fire at the nearby Westlake Landfill, but none have reported the exclusive story I published for the first time Jan. 23, 2012, and, again, only nine months ago. It’s about radioactive waste impacting the lives of citizens in neighboring St. Charles County Mo., and about a state agency report due to be published in January 2016.

Click on image above to read the story I published Jan. 23, 2012, about radioactive waste issues in Missouri..

Click on image above to read the story I published Jan. 23, 2012, and, again, nine months ago, about radioactive waste issues outside of St. Louis County, Mo., and about a state agency report due to be published in January 2016.

I won’t repeat the story referenced above, since you can click this link to read it. Instead, I will republish two related stories that, for reasons beyond my control, went offline a little more than one year ago.

The first article was published March 26, 2012, under the headline, Missouri State Legislators Not Inclined to Place High Priority on 2011 Weldon Spring Cancer Report. The text of the article, which put me at loggerheads with my state legislators, appears below with only minor modifications for clarity and most, but not all, of the original links:

March has been a miserable month for me when it comes to dealing with Republican Party officials in my own backyard.

While most of my interaction about “things Republican” has revolved around the 2012 St. Charles County (Mo.) Republican Presidential Caucus, other interactions have involved GOP members of the Missouri House of Representatives.

During the first week of March, I made multiple attempts to contact several of those representatives with questions I had regarding the “2011 Weldon Spring Cancer Inquiry Report,” a four-page document published by the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services that was the subject of an exclusive article I broke Jan. 23.

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, according to an earlier MDHSS document, the 2005 Weldon Spring Cancer Report.

Those initial contact attempts, made between March 2 and March 6, involved sending three separate Facebook messages to five state representatives – Kurt Bahr of O’Fallon, Kathie Conway of St. Charles, Chuck Gatschenberger of Lake Saint Louis, Mark Parkinson of St. Peters and Anne Zerr of St. Charles.  My goal was to find out what each is doing, or planning to do, to obtain answers for their constituents about the controversial report.

To their credit, Representatives Bahr and Conway replied soon after being contacted.  Both admitted they were not extremely familiar with the topic, both explained they were very busy with legislative matters in Jefferson City, and both gave me the initial impression that the matter isn’t likely to become a “front-burner issue” anytime soon.

Sadly, three of the state representatives – Gatschenberger, Parkinson and Zerr — chose not to reply, leading me to come up with several possible reasons for their failures to respond:

• They place a low priority on the health and well-being of their constituents who live in the shadow of the Weldon Spring Site 30 miles west of St. Louis;

• They haven’t been asked often enough by their constituents to look into the matter;

• They place a low priority on inquiries from non-mainstream media reporters like me;

• They don’t want to have their names attached to such a potentially-volatile political “hot potato” during an election year;

• They believe ignorance is bliss; or

• Last but not least, it’s possible they don’t check their Facebook messages very often.

On March 7, I decided to give them the benefit of the doubt regarding the Facebook possibility and send the same basic inquiry to all five state representatives via their official state email addresses.  Interestingly, the same two representatives who had replied to my Facebook messages replied to the email, and the same three representatives who had not replied to my Facebook messages did not reply to the email.

On the positive side, Representative Conway‘s reply came the same day and seemed to display genuine interest in the issue.

Not so positively, Representative Bahr‘s reply came the following day, was copied to all four of his colleagues, and didn’t leave me with a warm and fuzzy feeling.

After he labeled me “the expert” on the matter at hand, Representative Bahr demanded I offer a solution before he would devote time to the matter.  In a “Reply to All” message, I refused the expert label and went on to share my beliefs that elected and unelected state officials must be responsive and that the issues raised in the report are not the kind to be solved quickly.  I closed by explaining what, at a minimum, officials at the state health agency should be required to do.

My short to-do list included requiring MDHSS officials to explain how they reached the conclusions they had reached in the report, to answer why they’ve refused to answer any questions from reporters — including Blythe Bernhard at the Post-Dispatch and me — about the report, and to respond to criticism of the report, such as that offered by Washington University Professor Robert Criss in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch article, Report on cancer risk from Weldon Spring site assailed.  It was published Feb. 20, four weeks after my initial article.

Interestingly, I ran into Representative Parkinson Saturday at the aforementioned caucus (a.k.a., “St. Patrick’s Day Massacre”), a topic about which I’ve written and published nine posts to date (not including this one).  He was manning the first chair at a long table of GOP officials processing caucus registrations.

When my turn to register came, I asked Representative Parkinson why he had not responded to any of my messages about Weldon Spring.  He said he had not seen them and acted like he didn’t know what I was talking about.

The conversation continued, and Representative Parkinson asked me to provide details about the issue.  I told him it was Weldon Spring, that he should read his email from me and — cognizant of the fact that 300 people were waiting behind me in the long caucus registration line — that “now” wasn’t the time or the place to discuss the matter.

As I started to walk away, Representative Parkinson asked if I, as “the expert” on the Weldon Spring matter, would like to discuss it over coffee.  I replied by telling him I would prefer to handle the matter more expediently, without wasting more time, via his response to my email message.

Later, while waiting for the caucus to begin inside the larger of two gymnasiums at Francis Howell North High School in St. Peters, Representative Parkinson approached me and again assured me that he had not seen any of my messages.  In response, I told him I found it odd that he had referred to me earlier as “the expert” – in much the same way Representative Bahr had in his aforementioned email — even though he said he had not seen any of the messages related to me.  The conversation ended there, and I went back to my seat in the bleachers.

A few hours after the caucus ended, Representative Parkinson sent me the Facebook message below, shown verbatim:

Bob…after an exhaustive search of my inbox (mark.parkinson@house.mo.gov) I can not find any correspondence from you on this issue. I don’t check facebook mail often (or at all). Please direct any official correspondence to the above email address.

We can discuss this issue when we sit down to discuss the other.


My response — “Mark – Perhaps you should look more closely. See screenshot of the message to you from my email “SENT” folder. – Bob” — was accompanied by a screenshot (taken March 18 and shown below) as evidence that Representative Parkinson had received the same message that all of his colleagues received.


Is it possible that Representative Parkinson is just computer illiterate?  Sure, it’s possible.  But I think that’s a stretch.

Instead, I believe he received my message but chose to ignore it.  My belief is augmented by the fact that my email message sent to the five state representatives did not produce any bounce-back messages like those I received on a handful of occasions in the past after I had used incorrect email addresses when trying to communicate with Missouri legislators.  [FYI:  As of this publication, I have still not received any email response from Representative Parkinson.]

Finally, it’s certainly worth noting that I ran into Representative Conway at the caucus, too.

During two brief discussions, she (1) seemed to express genuine interest in the matter, (2) told me she had read the materials to which I had provided links, and (3) gave me the feeling she would follow up on the matter.  Then, lo and behold, she contacted me via Facebook message to let me know she had contacted MDHSS and had more questions.  So much for that “initial impression” I mentioned early in this piece.

Sadly, the other state representatives’ responses and failures to respond raise more questions then they answer.

That in mind, I would like to offer a suggestion to readers (1) who live in one of the zip codes (63301, 63303, 63304, 63366 and 63376) covered by the cancer report, (2) who live in a zip code near the Weldon Spring Site or (3) who simply think these state legislators should be interested in this matter.  Use the information below to contact them in Jefferson City and let them know:

Rep. Kurt Bahr — 573-751-9768 or Kurt.Bahr@house.mo.gov;

Rep. Kathie Conway — 573-751-2250 or Kathie.Conway@house.mo.gov;

Rep. Chuck Gatschenberger — [Note: He’s no longer in office.]

Rep. Mark Parkinson — 573-751-2949 or Mark.Parkinson@house.mo.gov; and

Rep. Anne Zerr — 573-751-3717 or Anne.Zerr@house.mo.gov.

On March 29, 2012, I published another article — this one under the headline, Missouri Legislators Pass ‘Birther,’ Jumping Jacks and Butterfly Bills While Ignoring Cancer Report — in which I criticized Missouri legislators for what they were doing in lieu of investigating serious public health issues. The text of the first half-dozen or so paragraphs of that article appears below with only minor modifications for clarity and most, but not all, of the original links [Note: I opted to cut out paragraphs at the end of the article that simply rehashed details already shared in the aforementioned exclusive story]:

On Wednesday, the 46th day of the 2012 Regular Session, Missouri state legislators tackled at least one important bill which, I predict, will never be signed by liberal Democrat Gov. Jay Nixon.  That bill, HB1046, “requires proof of identity and status as a United States natural born citizen for the office of President and Vice President to be submitted with other required certification documents to the Secretary of State.”

In addition to the so-called “Birther Bill” which I support, legislators could have done so much more.  Before looking at what could have been, let’s look at what was addressed yesterday.

The house passed several bills that might eventually receive the governor’s signature.  Among them are seven specialty license plate-related measures, eight bills designating portions of several Missouri highways as memorial roadways to honor individuals who had served their country in law enforcement, the military and government and two bills designating days each year to honor veterans — March 26 as “Veterans of Operation Iraqi/Enduring Freedom Day” and March 30 as “Vietnam Veterans Day.”

Other bills that might get reach the governor and get his nod are bills advocating recognition for organ donation, Pallister-Killian Syndrome, fibromyaligia, lupus, spinal cord injuries and pancreatic cancer.

While I’m not specifically against any of the measures above, I simply think there are more pressing issues with which legislators should be spending their time.

Conversely, the ridiculous measures listed below were also pushed forward by legislators:

• “Jumping Jacks” as the official state exercise (HB1063);

• State Highway 5 between the cities of Ava and Mansfield as the “Missouri Fox Trotting Highway” (HB1107);

The Regal Fritillary (Speyeria idalia) as the official state butterfly (HB1266); and

The month of December as “Pet Breeders Appreciation Month (HB1404).”

Sadly, several of the same legislators who spent the day dealing with these “vital” pieces of legislation are the same ones who’ve been “too busy” and seem to have an avoid-at-all-cost attitude when it comes to answering questions about the 2011 Weldon Spring Cancer Report.

That report, issued by Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services officials, has remained largely under wraps since it was released to me Dec. 29.  Why?

For starters, because it reveals troubling findings about leukemia and leukemia death rates among people living in five zip codes near the Weldon Spring Site in St. Charles County, Mo.  In addition, they must realize the report’s findings could turn into a “hot potato” political issue far too dangerous for ambitious politicians to tackle during an election year.

I ended that story by encouraging readers to learn more about the matter and to contact their state legislators. Today, I suspect state legislators might be more willing to listen to citizens concerns about this “hot potato” issue. No guarantees though, so keep your fingers crossed.

UPDATE 10/21/2015 at 10:48 a.m. Central:  A few minutes ago, I sent the media query below to Ryan Hobart, MDHSS director of public information:

Dear Ryan;

Five years ago, I communicated with your predecessors, Jaqueline Lapine and Gena Terlizzi, regarding the Weldon Spring Site where radioactive waste is stored in St. Charles County, Mo.

Because I had read in your agency’s 2005 Weldon Spring Cancer Report that the authors recommended “the Cancer Inquiry Program should continue to monitor the cancer incidence and mortality rates in Weldon Spring and its surrounding areas,” I asked for — and eventually obtained — a copy of the 2011 Weldon Spring Cancer Inquiry Report.

Today, I’m repeating the process in hopes of obtaining an update about your agency’s forthcoming release of a 2016 Weldon Spring Cancer Report.

With several national news media outlets, including CBS Evening News and the The Los Angeles Times, reporting recently about the inherent dangers of radioactive waste in the St. Louis County neighborhoods along Coldwater Creek colliding with an underground fire at the nearby Westlake Landfill, it’s imperative that your agency be transparent when it comes to testing and monitoring at the Weldon Spring Site.

At your earliest opportunity, I would like you to provide answers to the following questions:

1. When do officials at the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services expect to release another five-year follow-up report (a.k.a., “2016 Weldon Spring Cancer Report”)? and

2. Who, within the agency, is in charge of producing the five-year follow-up report?

Please let me know ASAP if you have questions or anticipate any delay beyond 48 hours in responding to my questions. Thanks in advance for your prompt reply.


Bob McCarty

FYI: I’ll let you know how he responds — or not — as soon as possible.

UPDATE 10-26-15 at 8:27 a.m. Central:  After waiting five days for Hobart to reply via email, I called him this morning and left a phone message for him. As the third public information officer in five years at the agency, I suspect he might have been caught unaware on the subject. Then again, he might be an obedient lackey, willing to do whatever he can to keep the subject under wraps. Stay tuned to see if he responds.

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‘Winning Life’s Lottery’ Requires Hard Work

EDITOR’S NOTE: Below is a guest post by Paul R. Hollrah, a resident of Oklahoma who writes from the perspective of a veteran conservative politico and retired corporate government relations executive whose life experience includes having served two terms as a member of the Electoral College. Even if you disagree with him, this piece will make you think long and hard.

Westward view of St. Louis skyline in September 2008.

Westward view of St. Louis skyline in September 2008, 75 years after Paul Hollrah’s birth.

I realize that it may be a bit uncool to dwell too much on one’s own life experiences, but I have a point to make and I hope that I will be forgiven for doing so.

I was born in 1933, in St. Louis County, Mo., in the midst of the Great Depression. My parents, both of whom came from generations of farm families, had sixth-grade educations. Farming was a matter of hard dawn-to-dusk labor, so when children had learned to read, write, and “do their sums,” they were expected to leave school to carry their share of the workload.

When my parents married in 1929, they decided to purchase a small farm, but they had no money and the banks had no money to lend, so their only alternative was to become sharecroppers, giving a one-third share of their crops to our landlord in lieu of rent.

Sharecropping provided our family with a subsistence, but little else. Nearly all of the food on our table was either from our vegetable garden, from farm animals… chicken, turkey, beef and pork… or the rabbits, squirrels, ducks, geese, and catfish that my father brought home from his frequent forays into our local forests and rivers. Whatever butter and eggs we didn’t need for our own table was taken to South St. Louis every Saturday and sold to regular customers, door-to-door. But then, when war clouds gathered over Europe and the Pacific in the late 1930s, my father took a job as a pick-and-shovel ditchdigger at 67½ cents an hour, helping to build a new munitions plant under construction at Weldon Spring, Mo.

My older sister and I attended a small one-room brick schoolhouse at Harvester, Missouri, three miles from our home, but when my father decided to give up farming for good in 1941 to work in the defense plants, we left our little red brick schoolhouse and moved to St. Charles, a suburb of St. Louis, where we were enrolled at a Lutheran parochial school. And when we completed our primary school education we attended St. Charles High School, a public high school.

I was not a good student and had little interest in high school. However, my parents insisted that if I wanted to get a good job, I had to have a high school diploma. It was the only thing they ever said on the subject. Attending a college or university was never a consideration, so during my four-year high school career I successfully avoided all subject matter related to mathematics and the sciences. I graduated in June 1951, with a GPA of just under 2.0, a C-minus average.

After graduation, I took a job as a “grease monkey,” tow truck driver and mechanics helper at a local automobile dealership, and, months later, I went to work as an assembly line riveter at McDonnell Aircraft Corporation, a major manufacturer of jet fighter planes for the U.S. military.

Then, in July 1953, I received a letter from the president of the United States; it began with the word, “Greetings.” I was drafted into the U.S. Army Aug. 12, 1953, and was trained as a Field Artillery Operations and Intelligence (O&I) specialist. After completing my basic training and my O&I training I was sent to West Germany for 17 months as a member of the post-World War II occupation forces. Upon being honorably discharged in June 1955, I returned to McDonnell Aircraft where I worked as a production control expediter for 18 months.

During that time, as therapy for an injury to my left knee, the result of a “friendly fire” incident during basic training, I took a second job as a ballroom dancing instructor in St. Louis. Those two jobs kept me fully occupied for at least 15 hours each day, five days a week. However, my injury prevented me from adequately performing my day job, so I took a job selling sewing machines and cordless vacuum cleaners in the housing projects of St. Louis. My sales territory included the infamous Pruitt-Igoe housing project where it was absolutely foolhardy for a white man to enter without an armed escort… let alone attempt to repossess a sewing machine or a vacuum cleaner from a black family who’d failed to make their monthly payments.

Finally, in December 1956, I took a job as a draftsman for Laclede-Christy Corporation, a major refractory manufacturer in South St. Louis. My job was to design open-pit strip mines on leases in Missouri and Illinois and to assist the company surveyor in laying out prospecting plans for our drilling crews. It was during the nearly two years that I worked for Laclede-Christy that I developed an interest in surveying, mining engineering, and geology.

In February 1957, I married my ballroom dancing partner, with whom I’d earned an all-St. Louis ballroom championship. However, being unable to afford the rent for a house or an apartment of our own, we were forced to move in with my parents. But then, as the economic recession of 1957-58 worsened, I learned that my job at Laclede-Christy was to be phased out. It was then that I made the decision to “escape” into college, to enroll as a full-time student at the University of Missouri College of Engineering. It was something that my supervisors at Laclede Christy had urged me to do, but I had little or no high school background in science and mathematics. So, during the 1957-58 school year I took two evening courses in Intermediate algebra at Washington University in St. Louis… just to see if I could handle college-level mathematics.

In two semesters of algebra, I earned two Cs. So, in August 1958, armed with nothing but my two Cs and an abundance of hope and determination, I enrolled at the University of Missouri. Since I had no money and no background for the study of engineering, I look back on that decision as the most courageous thing I’ve ever done. After selling everything we owned, except for our clothing and our 1953 Ford, I went to the local Goodwill store and purchased three rooms of kitchen, bedroom, and living room furniture off the junk pile in the alley behind the store for a total of fifty dollars. It was not good furniture; it was on the junk pile for good reason.

In early November 1957, we were blessed with the birth of a beautiful baby boy who was ten months old in August 1958 when we loaded all of our belongings, including our $50 worth of junk furniture, into a U-Haul trailer and moved into a dilapidated three-room tar-paper shack in Columbia, Mo., just across the road from the Missouri Tigers football stadium.

I remember we spent so much time listening to Songs for kids when he was first born. Looking them all up on YouTube now all these years later just makes me so nostalgic, even though times were tough for us back then.

Our only regular income was the $125 I received each month under the Korean G.I. Bill… $27 of which paid our monthly rent. The remainder of our income, earmarked for the next semester’s tuition and books, gasoline, utilities, and insurance, left us with a food budget of only 60 cents a day. After we’d purchased milk and other supplies for the baby we were able to afford only beans, spaghetti, and an occasional bottle of catsup to mitigate the blandness of our starchy diet.

But the biggest shock of all was the difficulty of the course work. I was a 25-year-old veteran with a wife and child to support, and I found myself competing for grades against seventeen and 18-year-olds with four years of engineering prep in their high school careers. I attended class every day, I studied very hard, and I completed every homework assignment. Yet, when mid-term grades were posted during my first semester, I found that I was failing every course.

With no alternative, I developed a radical new study regimen. I was in class at 7:40 every morning and completed my lectures by noon. By 1 p.m., I was home, hitting the books, and I refused to turn the page in a textbook until I thoroughly comprehended everything on that page. I was up every morning at 6 a.m., and I studied for 14 hours a day, every day of the week. It worked. At the end of my freshman year, I found that not only had I turned those Fs around, I was named to the Dean’s Honor Roll.

Our second child was born in January 1960, after which my wife took a night-shift job at the University Medical Center. Each night at 10 p.m., I’d load our sleeping children into the back seat of our Ford and drive my wife to the medical center in time for her 10:30 p.m. shift. After driving home, I’d return our children to their beds and resume studying until 2:30 or 3:00 a.m. After a few hours of sleep, I was up again at 6 a.m., changing diapers and feeding the children. One of my friends told me recently that I should be getting more than 3 hours of sleep really. He told me that after researching what is a hybrid mattress made of, he decided to buy one because of how comfortable it sounded. He recommended that I considered looking into them, he thinks a comfortable mattress might help me to sleep for a little bit longer. For now though, my routine does seem to work. However, it would be nice to get some more sleep every now and then! Anyway, ater dropping the boys off at our babysitter’s home, I’d pick up my wife at 7 a.m. and drive her home so that she could get eight hours of sleep. I was in class at 7:40 a.m., and when I’d completed my morning lecturers, I’d return home to repeat my 14-hour study regimen.

It was our daily routine, and it was brutal. When I entered the university in August 1958, I was 6 feet tall and weighed 153 lb., but when I graduated four years later, in June 1962, I was still 6 ft. tall but weighed only 116 lb. But I have no regrets. During my junior year, I was elected to Chi Epsilon, the Civil Engineering Honor Society; in 2001, I was elected to the Civil Engineering Academy of Distinguished Alumni; and in 2012, I was named an Honorary Knight of St. Patrick, receiving the Missouri Honor Award for Distinguished Service in Engineering.

During my junior and senior years, we had a neighbor with three small children whose husband was serving a long prison sentence. And although she was on the public dole, her in-laws often delivered supplies of freshly-butchered beef and pork from their farm… which she promptly tossed into our neighborhood garbage pails because, as she explained, she didn’t like “that old country meat.” When I returned to the university for my 20th class reunion in 1982, our former landlord reminded me that he and his wife had often seen me rooting through those garbage pails with a flashlight, late at night, digging out food with which to feed my family. It was such a painful experience that I had apparently washed it from my memory.

As we drove away that day, my eldest son said, “Dad! You fed us out of garbage cans?” To which I replied, “Yes, Mark, I did. I did whatever I had to do.”

Those were difficult, character-building years. But now, after more than 50 years of unlimited opportunity and exciting challenge, Barack Obama informs me that I’ve played no role in any of that… that I’ve arrived at this stage of my life because I’ve “won life’s lottery.” I can’t help but wonder what life would be like if I hadn’t purchased that lottery ticket.

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