ATSDR Study Confirms Cancer Risks

The federal health agency concludes residents along Coldwater Creek in North St. Louis County have increased chances of cancer.

The final report by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry concludes that residents within the Coldwater Creek floodplain have a significantly greater chance of contracting several different forms of cancer.

ATSDR is the federal agency charged with investigating and determining potential public health risks posed by hazardous substances in the environment. It is an arm of the CDC.

The report, which was issued on April 30, finds that residents near the creek from the 1960s to the present have elevated chances of contracting lung cancer, bone cancer, leukemia, and to a lesser extent skin cancer.

“People who grew up in the Coldwater Creek area and played often in Coldwater Creek or its floodplain may have had elevated exposures to Th-230 [thorium] and other radiological contaminants,” according to the report.   “[T]he greatest increased lifetime risks would be for developing lung or bone cancers. ATSDR recommends people share their potential exposure related to Coldwater Creek with their physicians as part of their medical history and consult their physicians promptly if new or unusual symptoms develop.”

The 252-page final report  contradicts claims that downplayed the risks made in a front-page story by staff writer Jacob Barker of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in 2016. The online version of the story originally included a link to a sarcastic video produced by the newspaper that mocked residents over their concerns.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporters and editors failed to respond to a request for comment  before this story was posted.

 

 

 

 

Double Trouble

The presence here of plutonium — the most toxic of radio isotopes — is attributed to two sources. Finding either one is like looking for a needle in a haystack.  

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The Department of Energy doesn’t know where the plutonium is.

In March 2001, the DOE reported that the nuclear facility in Weldon Spring handled recycled uranium for years.  DOE investigators reported that 70,000 metric tons of recycled uranium passed through the plant between 1957 and 1966, when the Mallinckrodt Chemical ran the operation for the Atomic Energy Commission. The investigation calculated that 2.4 grams of plutonium would have present in this amount.

Recycled uranium is hotter because it has been irradiated in a nuclear reactor. At the time, it was estimated that exposure to one-millionth of an ounce of plutonium could cause cancer.

But the recycled uranium may not be the only source of potential plutonium contamination in the St. Louis region.

That’s because the Belgian Congo pitchblende that Mallinckrodt processed to make the first atomic bombs contains small amounts of plutonium, according to the Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry.

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Waste byproducts from the pitchblende processing is known to have contaminated a several sites in the St. Louis area, including Coldwater Creek and West Lake Landfill.