Hawley urging action on St. Louis area’s historic radioactive contamination, seeks Senate hearings and victims fund

Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley is going nuclear.

Arguing that radioactive contamination in the St. Louis area from the WWII-era Manhattan Project “may prove to be among the most significant government-caused environmental disasters in our nation’s history,” Hawley is demanding more be done about it.

Hawley’s “Justice for Jana Elementary Act,” requiring the cleanup of radioactive waste at and near Jana Elementary School near St. Louis, passed the Senate unanimously in April. But Hawley is pushing the House to approve it, and is now proposing Senate hearings on the contamination as well as a special fund to compensate victims of the radiation.

Noting the federal government knew of the contamination but kept the public in the dark from at least 1965 to 1990, Hawley has requested hearings before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources to get to the bottom of the matter.

“In the 1940s, uranium processing for the Manhattan Project took place in downtown St. Louis, resulting in radioactive waste,” Hawley wrote to committee chairman Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia. “The federal government then stored this waste above ground near the St. Louis airport for twenty years. The waste was improperly stored, causing it to seep into the ground and the nearby Coldwater Creek.

“In 1966, the Federal government hired a company, Cotter Corp, to dispose of the waste. Instead of properly disposing of the waste, the company dumped it in the West Lake Landfill, where it remains today. “

The Environmental Protection Agency failed to properly test the landfill and still disregards Missouri experts’ allegations of continued spread of the contamination, Hawley writes.

“We now know that the federal government – for decades – has known about the contamination that they caused in St. Louis (and) has lied about it,” Hawley said in an interview with The Heartlander on Thursday. “Who knows how many people have died or gotten sick? The federal government needs to pay for it. They need to pay for every person who has gotten sick because of their negligence and people who have lost loved ones.

“The fact that thousands of people all along this creek in St. Louis, all along the streets in St. Louis where this was buried – and then out to St, Charles, outside of St. Louis, where there’s more contamination – I mean, it is everywhere around the St. Louis region. The federal government lied about it. They still are not really cleaning it up. Now they need to make it right.”

He said “it’s a good question” why this massive contamination hasn’t received the attention that the Flint, Michigan, water crisis did, but that “I’m going to do my darndest to make sure that people understand this is one of the biggest disasters caused by the federal government in history.”

Hazelwood School District shuttered the school in Florissant, Missouri, last fall after non-government testing at the site revealed radiation 22 times higher than normal. The pace of remediation and compensation has clearly frustrated the senator.

“I have written to the Department of Energy, the Army Corps of Engineers, and even the president asking for remediation of the elementary school, and the federal government has yet to take meaningful action,” Hawley wrote to Manchin Wednesday. “Residents in the St. Louis area, and frankly all Americans, deserve answers from the federal government about this horrible catastrophe.”

Hawley visited the site and spoke at a community rally last week in support of a fund to compensate victims of the radiation.

“We have got to put in place this fund to make whole every person who has been ill and who has suffered any kind of negative consequence from this,” Hawley told the gathering. “The federal government has done this before for other victims of (its) nuclear programs.”

Asked whether he’s likely to get hearings from Manchin, Hawley sounded skeptical.

“I don’t know. He doesn’t do much about much. It’s his job – I mean, we should absolutely hold hearings, but I haven’t been very pleased so far with the response I’ve gotten. 

“But listen, I don’t care. I mean, he can hold hearings or not. We’re going to get the truth out one way or another. These people will be heard. The victims here, the good residents of St. Louis and the greater area, they will be heard from. I will force votes on this issue, and I’ll do it as long as it takes until we can get compensation and some kind of help for the people of this region. They deserve it.”


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