ST. LOUIS — The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plans to conduct radioactive contamination tests in a suburban St. Louis park that is located along a notorious toxic creek, a Corps spokesman said Tuesday.
The Corps of Engineers is seeking permission from St. Louis County to test soil and water at Fort Belle Fontaine Park, a popular tourist spot with towering cliffs and panoramic views. The park is about 3 miles (5 km) from where the Missouri River meets the Mississippi River.
Coldwater Creek runs through the park. The infamous polluted stream has been a headache for decades, ever since radioactive waste entered the waterway in the 1950s. Residents who lived along the creek as children in the 1960s and later blamed illnesses, including rare cases of cancer, on playing in the creek.
“As kids, we were never supposed to go down there, but of course we did,” said Kim Wisintin, a member of the Coldwater Creek group, which advocates testing and cleanup.
A unit of the Corps of Engineers, known as the Formerly Used Site Remedial Action Program, or FUSRAP, is responsible for cleaning up the stream of pollution. John Rankins, senior medical physicist at FUSRAP, said the work at the park is part of a plan to test all facilities in the Coldwater Creek floodplain.
“We do not expect to detect pollution due to the elevation of the terrain and did not detect pollution in the immediate vicinity of the park,” Rankins said in a statement.
However, local activist groups welcomed the testing. Visintin noted that the park is far from residential areas where children played in the stream.
“It’s like in the middle of nowhere,” she said.
Coldwater Creek was contaminated with radioactive waste generated when the Mallinckrodt Chemical processed uranium in the 1940s and 1950s for atomic weapons. The waste was initially stored at Lambert Airport, close to the creek, before being transported by truck to an industrial area that also borders the creek.
The site near the airport has been largely cleared, but the restoration of the creek itself won’t be completed until 2038, Corps officials said. Meanwhile, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urged people in 2016 to stay away from Coldwater Creek.
Last year, the Jana elementary school in the city of Florissant was closed after a private company found contamination in the kindergarten’s playground and inside the building. The private study was funded by lawyers whose clients are suing over radioactive contamination in Coldwater Creek, which flows next to the school.
The results prompted the Corps of Engineers to conduct their own investigation. The agency found no contamination either inside the school or in several soil samples outside, and the third round of testing also found no dangerous levels of radioactive material. However, the school remains closed.