Updates on Hazardous Waste in St. Louis

By Christen Commuso

There has been a whirlwind of activity since we recommitted to working on St. Louis’ longstanding radioactive waste issue. For those unfamiliar with St. Louis’ role in the Manhattan Project and nuclear weapons production, please visit our website for a brief history.

UPDATE: Jana Elementary School

As you may recall, MCE broke the news of radioactive waste contamination on the property of Jana Elementary School in Hazelwood School District in the early spring of 2022. Since then the school has been closed, presumably for good. The Army Corps of Engineers — tasked under the Formerly Utilized Sites Remedial Action Program (FUSRAP) to cleanup Manhattan Project/Atomic Energy Commission waste across the nation — has begun removing the contaminated soil from the property. So far, 301 truckloads equating to 2,510 cubic yards have been removed and taken to an out-of-state licensed facility. According to a spokesperson with the Corps, they estimate a total of 6,800 cubic yards (~900 truckloads) will be removed from the property. The contamination at Jana Elementary prompted Senator Josh Hawley and Congresswoman Cori Bush to introduce the bicameral, bipartisan Justice for Jana Elementary Act. The Act was passed in the Senate but awaits a committee assignment in the House.

Jana Elementary is just one of hundreds of sites across north St. Louis county and city to be remediated under the program. At this time, the Corps estimates it will be another 15 years before they can complete the cleanup of all St. Louis sites. By the time they are finished, the radioactive waste will have been in our communities for nearly 100 years.

The RECA Program

In July, after an elaborate multi-organization news report from Missouri Independent, Associated Press, and MuckRock showed the government knew as early as 1949 that the radioactive contamination was seeping into nearby Coldwater Creek, yet did nothing to stop it or warn the public, Senator Josh Hawley working with Senator Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico introduced a bipartisan amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to add civilians from zip codes around the St. Louis and St. Charles region into the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA). The amendment would also extend and expand coverage for previously excluded uranium workers and downwinders in several western states, the Navajo Nation, and Guam.

In collaboration with the Union of Concerned Scientists, a group of community organizations, including MCE’s Community Outreach Specialist, Christen Commuso, residents, and state representatives from Missouri traveled to Washington DC in September to advocate for the full adoption of the RECA amendment. Because the amendment was added in the senate after the house already approved their version of the NDAA, the amendment’s future will be decided by a specially-assigned conference committee made up of members from both chambers. We should know its fate later this fall.

Learn more and become a member of MCE at moenvironment.org.