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St. Louis-area residents make plea for compensation for illnesses tied to nuclear contamination

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St. Louis-area residents make plea for compensation for illnesses tied to nuclear contamination
News

News

St. Louis-area residents make plea for compensation for illnesses tied to nuclear contamination

2024-04-06 03:39 Last Updated At:03:50

Karen Nickel has been dealing with lupus and other illnesses for years, illnesses she blames on childhood exposure to a suburban St. Louis creek where Cold War-era nuclear waste was dumped decades ago. It's time, she said Friday, for the federal government to start making amends.

“People have died and are still dying,” Nickel, co-founder of the activist group Just Moms STL, said.

Nickel and others impacted by nuclear waste exposure in the St. Louis region joined Democratic U.S. Rep. Cori Bush at a news conference at a park that sits near long-contaminated Coldwater Creek. They urged renewal of a law initially passed more than three decades ago that would provide an estimated $50 billion to compensate Americans exposed to radiation by the government.

Last month, the Senate approved legislation by Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri and Democratic Sen. Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico that would not only extend the 1990 Radiation Exposure Compensation Act, but expand its scope to include Missouri and other states adversely affected by the nation’s nuclear weapons program.

But the compensation plan was excluded from a spending bill.

“The Senate did its job, but House leadership has failed to act,” Bush, of St. Louis, said. “This injustice cannot stand.”

The plan isn't dead. It could still pass as a stand-alone bill, or be attached to another piece of legislation. But time is of the essence, Bush said. The RECA program expires June 7.

Uranium processing in the St. Louis area played a pivotal role in developing the nuclear weapons that helped bring an end to World War II and provided a key defense during the Cold War. But eight decades later, the region is still dealing with contamination at several sites.

In July, an investigation published by The Associated Press, The Missouri Independent and MuckRock showed that the federal government and companies responsible for nuclear bomb production and atomic waste storage sites in the St. Louis area were aware of health risks, spills, improperly stored contaminants and other problems but often ignored them.

While it is difficult to prove definitively that the waste caused residents’ illnesses, advocates argue that there is more than enough evidence that it has sickened people.

Since the RECA program began, more than 54,000 claims have been filed and about $2.6 billion has been awarded for approved claims in Nevada, Utah and Arizona.

In New Mexico, residents in the communities surrounding the area where the first atomic bomb was detonated in 1945 — the top-secret Manhattan Project — were not warned of the radiological dangers and didn’t realize that an atomic blast was the source of the ash that was raining down upon them.

Advocates also have sought to bring awareness to the lingering effects of radiation exposure on the Navajo Nation, where millions of tons of uranium ore were extracted over decades to support U.S. nuclear activities.

President Joe Biden signed an executive order in 2022 extending RECA for two years, into June. Hawley’s bill would extend the law for five years and expand coverage to include people in Missouri as well as Idaho, Montana, Colorado, Tennessee, Kentucky, Alaska and Guam.

The White House has indicated that Biden would sign the legislation.

“The President believes we have a solemn obligation to address toxic exposure, especially among those who have been placed in harm’s way by the government’s actions,” the White House said in a statement earlier this year.

Others worry about the cost. The taxpayer advocacy group Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget said that the legislation should include budget offsets to pay for it.

Nuclear waste stored near St. Louis' Lambert Airport made its way into Coldwater Creek in the 1960s. Many people who grew up or live near the meandering creek believe the contamination is responsible for cancers and other illnesses, though experts say connecting radiation exposure to illness is complicated. Cancer concerns also have been raised by people in nearby St. Charles County, Missouri, where uranium was processed and a large quarry became contaminated, resulting in a Superfund cleanup.

In 2022, a St. Louis County grade school closed amid worries that contamination from Coldwater Creek got onto the playground and inside the building. The Army Corps of Engineers announced last month that it is testing a few homes near the creek after high radiation levels were found in their backyards.

Like Nickel, Democratic state Rep. Doug Clemens grew up along Coldwater Creek. He said every man in his childhood neighborhood eventually died of stomach or intestinal cancer.

“They knew they were poisoning us for 75 years,” Clemens said of the government. “RECA is a step. We must do RECA now.”

This story has been corrected to show the last name of the New Mexico senator is Luján.

FILE - Coldwater Creek flows Friday, April 7, 2023, in Florissant, Mo. Democratic U.S. Rep. Cori Bush and several people who grew up along a contaminated St. Louis County creek on Friday, April 5, 2024, urged the U.S. House to pass a measure that would provide compensation for those whose illnesses are believed to be connected to nuclear contamination. Coldwater Creek was contaminated decades ago when waste from nuclear bomb development was dumped into the creek. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson, File)

FILE - Coldwater Creek flows Friday, April 7, 2023, in Florissant, Mo. Democratic U.S. Rep. Cori Bush and several people who grew up along a contaminated St. Louis County creek on Friday, April 5, 2024, urged the U.S. House to pass a measure that would provide compensation for those whose illnesses are believed to be connected to nuclear contamination. Coldwater Creek was contaminated decades ago when waste from nuclear bomb development was dumped into the creek. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson, File)

DENVER (AP) — Jacob Stallings hit a tying home run with two outs in the ninth, Ezequiel Tovar had a winning single in the 11th for his career-best fourth hit and the Colorado Rockies beat Philadelphia 3-2 on Friday night after the first-inning ejection of Phillies star Bryce Harper.

Harper called a timeout after taking a borderline 0-1 sinker that appeared to be low and inside but was called a strike by plate umpire Brian Walsh. After the two-time NL MVP struck out on the next pitch, a curveball, Harper dropped his bat and threw his helmet. He said something to Walsh and was tossed in the 21st ejection of Harper's big league career.

“I wasn’t really that upset,” Harper said. “Obviously, I spiked my helmet, but that was a frustration from the call. And then I just kind of asked him, 'Hey, wait, that was a strike, but where do you have it?' I just wanted to have a conversation with you.

“Again, didn’t cuss and scream or anything really big. That’s kind of it. I’m not trying to get thrown out of the first inning in Colorado, obviously. So it's a bummer, man. I could have doubled in the gap or homered, and the game’s changed, right?”

Colorado stopped the Phillies' six-game winning streak and ended Philadelphia's streak of seven consecutive wins in series openers since an April 29 loss at the Los Angeles Angels. The Phillies, a big league-best 37-15, had won nine of their previous 10 games.

“What led to the ejection was that Bryce Harper was clearly upset about the pitches,” crew chief Vic Carapazza told a pool reporter. “Brian gave him a long leash. He kept him in the game, and Bryce just kept arguing balls and strikes. At the end of the day, equipment violation is basically a big warning. and if you continue to talk about pitches, then Brian had to handle it.”

Nick Castellanos and Edmundo Sosa homered in the fifth off Ty Blach, who allowed five hits in 6 2/3 innings.

“We did have some opportunities,” Phillies manager Rob Thomson said. “We hit some balls hard, made some good plays on defense.”

Tovar had an RBI single in the fifth, and Stallings tied the score with his third homer this season, driving a first-pitch sinker from José Alvarado 427 feet to left-center. Alvarado blew a save for the first time in 10 chances this season.

“I know what a tough at-bat it is,” said Stallings, who has a double and a homer in four at-bats against Alvarado. “It was a really cool moment. That ranks up there as one of my favorites.”

Gregory Soto (0-1) intentionally walked Jordan Beck leading off the 11th to put runners on first and second, then walked Ryan McMahon with one out. Tovar singled sharply into left.

“Starting to look a little more veteran-ish,” manager Bud Black said of the 22-year-old Tovar. “We're seeing the growth, and it's awesome. It's really fun to watch a young player grow. This guy is an All-Star type player in the making.”

Tovar had his second career walk-off hit.

“Honestly, it's extremely fun in those situations,” Tovar said.

Tyler Kinley (3-1) struck out two in a perfect 11th as the Rockies played a franchise-record third straight game of at least 11 innings.

Philadelphia loaded the bases with one out 10th inning but Nick Mears froze Kyle Schwarber on a 2-2 curveball and retired J.T. Realmuto on a groundout.

“It's stressful, obviously, against a team that is arguably the best team in baseball the way they are playing,” Black said.

Phillies starter Cristopher Sánchez gave one run and seven hits in 5 1/3 innings.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Phillies: SS Trea Turner (hamstring) ran in the outfield, took ground balls and hit in the cage Friday, and is to take early hitting on the field Saturday, manager Rob Thomson said. Turner could progress to running the bases in San Francisco early next week. … RHP Yunior Marté (shoulder inflammation) has thrown two bullpen sessions and is nearing a rehab assignment.

Rockies: 3B Ryan McMahon (sore back) was held out of the lineup, the first game he has not started this season, but entered as a defensive replacement in the 10th inning. … The contracts of RHP John Curtiss and RHP Matt Caratini were selected from Albuquerque, RHP Peter Lambert was optioned to the Triple-A farm team, Matt Koch was designated for assignment and LHP Kyle Freehand (elbow) was transferred to the 60-day IL. … Freeland is to throw breaking balls in a bullpen session Sunday, a first during his recovery. He is eligible to return June 16 … RHP Germán Márquez (Tommy John surgery) is to throw a bullpen session shortly, manager Bud Black said. … OF Nolan Jones (back strain) ran and played catch and is a few days from hitting in a cage, Black said.

UP NEXT

RHP Aaron Nola (6-2, 3.05 ERA) starts Saturday for the Phillies and RHP Dakota Hudson (1-7, 5.89) for the Rockies.

AP MLB: https://apnews.com/MLB

Colorado Rockies pinch hitter Jacob Stallings gestures as he circles the bases after hitting a solo home run off Philadelphia Phillies relief pitcher José Alvarado in the ninth inning of a baseball game Friday, May 24, 2024, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Colorado Rockies pinch hitter Jacob Stallings gestures as he circles the bases after hitting a solo home run off Philadelphia Phillies relief pitcher José Alvarado in the ninth inning of a baseball game Friday, May 24, 2024, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Colorado Rockies' Ezequiel Tovar follows through with his swing after connecting for an RBI walkoff single off Philadelphia Phillies relief pitcher Gregory Soto in the 11th inning of a baseball game Friday, May 24, 2024, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Colorado Rockies' Ezequiel Tovar follows through with his swing after connecting for an RBI walkoff single off Philadelphia Phillies relief pitcher Gregory Soto in the 11th inning of a baseball game Friday, May 24, 2024, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Colorado Rockies' Ezequiel Tovar gestures as he heads up the first base line after connecting for a walkoff RBI single off Philadelphia Phillies relief pitcher Gregory Soto in the 11th inning of a baseball game Friday, May 24, 2024, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Colorado Rockies' Ezequiel Tovar gestures as he heads up the first base line after connecting for a walkoff RBI single off Philadelphia Phillies relief pitcher Gregory Soto in the 11th inning of a baseball game Friday, May 24, 2024, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Colorado Rockies' Ezequiel Tovar gestures as he heads up the first base line after connecting for a walkoff RBI single off Philadelphia Phillies relief pitcher Gregory Soto in the 11th inning of a baseball game Friday, May 24, 2024, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Colorado Rockies' Ezequiel Tovar gestures as he heads up the first base line after connecting for a walkoff RBI single off Philadelphia Phillies relief pitcher Gregory Soto in the 11th inning of a baseball game Friday, May 24, 2024, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Philadelphia Phillies relief pitcher Gregory Soto adjusts his cap after walking Colorado Rockies' Ryan McMahon to load the bases in the 11th inning of a baseball game Friday, May 24, 2024, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Philadelphia Phillies relief pitcher Gregory Soto adjusts his cap after walking Colorado Rockies' Ryan McMahon to load the bases in the 11th inning of a baseball game Friday, May 24, 2024, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Colorado Rockies' Charlie Blackmon, center, douses Ezequiel Tovar, right, who hit a walkoff RBI single as teammate Alan Trejo looks on after a baseball game against the Philadelphia Phillies, Friday, May 24, 2024, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Colorado Rockies' Charlie Blackmon, center, douses Ezequiel Tovar, right, who hit a walkoff RBI single as teammate Alan Trejo looks on after a baseball game against the Philadelphia Phillies, Friday, May 24, 2024, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Colorado Rockies' Charlie Blackmon, second from left, douses Ezequiel Tovar, secind from right, after his walkoff RBI single as Tovar is interviewed by announcer Kelsey Wingert, right, after a baseball game against the Philadelphia Phillies, Friday, May 24, 2024, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Colorado Rockies' Charlie Blackmon, second from left, douses Ezequiel Tovar, secind from right, after his walkoff RBI single as Tovar is interviewed by announcer Kelsey Wingert, right, after a baseball game against the Philadelphia Phillies, Friday, May 24, 2024, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Philadelphia Phillies' Bryce Harper talks to umpire Vic Carapazza, right, after home plate umpire Brian Walsh ejected Harper for arguing a strikeout against Colorado Rockies starting pitcher Ty Blach to end the top of the first inning of a baseball game Friday, May 24, 2024, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Philadelphia Phillies' Bryce Harper talks to umpire Vic Carapazza, right, after home plate umpire Brian Walsh ejected Harper for arguing a strikeout against Colorado Rockies starting pitcher Ty Blach to end the top of the first inning of a baseball game Friday, May 24, 2024, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Philadelphia Phillies' Bryce Harper argues with second base umpire Vic Carpazza, right, as manager Rob Thomson, back right, listens after Harper was ejected for arguing after striking out to end the top of the first inning of the team's baseball game against the Colorado Rockies on Friday, May 24, 2024, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Philadelphia Phillies' Bryce Harper argues with second base umpire Vic Carpazza, right, as manager Rob Thomson, back right, listens after Harper was ejected for arguing after striking out to end the top of the first inning of the team's baseball game against the Colorado Rockies on Friday, May 24, 2024, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

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