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Coldwater Creek cancer cluster investigation

6:36 PM, Mar 20, 2013   |    comments
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 PDF Document: Coldwater Creek Map  PDF Document: Coldwater Creek Tables  PDF Document: Coldwater Creek Area Analysis REPORT

By Leisa Zigman I-Team Reporter

ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. (KSDK) - The Missouri Department of Health just released a report regarding cancer rates in the area of North St. Louis County around Coldwater Creek.

Last month, the I-Team reported extensively about concerns of those who grew up in the area and the high number of cancers, birth defects, and auto immune illnesses they are currently battling.

The state study targeted cancer rates between 1996 and 2004 and looked at six zip codes: 63031, 63033, 63034, 63042, 63134 and 63138.

The report concluded, "Any increased cancer risk due to environmental radiation exposure is unlikely."
But the time frame analyzed has critics saying the study isn't worth the paper it's written on.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Coldwater Creek was contaminated with thorium and uranium that seeped into it from two nuclear waste sites near the airport. The waste was a bi-product of the atomic age.

In the 1940s, Mallinckrodt Chemical Works in downtown St. Louis purified thousands of tons of uranium to make the first atomic bombs. The process generated enormous amounts of radioactive waste. Citing national security, the government quietly ordered the material moved to north St. Louis County in 1947.

Twenty-one acres of airport land became a dumping ground, where a toxic mixture of uranium, thorium, and radium sat uncovered or in barrels. In the 1960s, government documents noted contents from the rusting barrels were seeping into nearby coldwater creek. By the 90s the government confirmed unsafe levels of radioactive materials in the water.

The Missouri report found expected levels of leukemia in those targeted zip codes and lower levels of thyroid cancer when compared to other parts of the state.

But the study also found elevated levels of breast, colon, prostate, and kidney cancers.

"Our next step is to work with the local Department of Health and better promote healthy eating, physical activity, and tobacco control," the report said.

Janell Wright, an accountant and former auditor, started collecting data from her classmates at McCluer North. Soon peers from neighboring schools reached out too. At first, Wright found 30 cases. Within two months, she had data on 200. Her maps now have more than 1,000 cases within four square miles.

Wright became equally alarmed when data showed some of her classmates' children had serious medical problems as well. There are now more than 6,000 people connected on the Coldwater Creek Facebook page.

Wright said the state's data is flawed and the research insulting to those currently battling cancer. Wright points out that the children who are now battling rare cancers and who have given birth to children with birth defects played in Coldwater Creek in the 80s and early 90s, and no longer live in those zip codes targeted.

State health officials credit Wright and those on the Coldwater Creek Facebook page with bringing the issue to their attention but they insist Coldwater Creek is safe and not the cause of increased levels of cancer, at least between the years of 1996 and 2004.
We went to an independent 3rd party expert to weigh in on the state's findings and the concerns raised by the facebook group. Dr. Graham Colditz is the Associate Director of Siteman Cancer Center's Prevention and Control department. He said, "The State did a thorough job looking at cancers diagnosed in a fairly narrow time frame." But he also agreed that "The limitations of our data system is that we only know where they live at the time they were diagnosed."
He points out people like Wright who grew up near the creek long before the radioactive piles were cleaned up, should remain vigilant. "Radiation exposure is a known carcinogen and a known cause of cancer. Obviously that is part of the drive to clean up contaminated space like this. People who grew up there carry some extra risk because of that, "he said.

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