Federal Government to Test Popular St. Louis County Hiking Spot for Nuclear Radiation Contamination
The federal government has announced plans to test water and soil samples at Fort Belle Fontaine Park, a popular hiking spot in north St. Louis County, for possible nuclear radiation contamination. The park's trails run along Coldwater Creek, which was exposed to toxic waste from the development of atomic weapons in the 1940s and 1950s. Today, park visitors often explore and play in the creek bed, unaware of the potential danger lurking beneath.
Dawn Chapman, co-founder of Just Moms STL, an organization advocating for the cleanup and awareness of Coldwater Creek, expressed concern over the situation. “The mere fact that they have to go and look for radioactive waste and that I've seen kids and people in that creek makes me sick,” Chapman said. “It's a straight-up F for failure for not communicating.”
A division of the Army Corps is responsible for the cleanup of the 19-mile-long Coldwater Creek, which stretches from St. Louis Lambert International Airport to the Missouri River. The federal Formerly Utilized Sites Remedial Action Program (FUSRAP) has asked the St. Louis County Council for permission to begin radiation testing and remediation at Fort Belle Fontaine Park. The council is expected to consider the request soon.
“In the case of Fort Belle Fontaine Park, we want to collect verification samples to identify any historic contamination that may have been deposited in the park,” said Jon Rankins, a health physicist for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. FUSRAP is seeking broad access to the 306-acre park to collect samples and perform any necessary remediation.
Despite the park's 3-mile hiking trail featuring beautiful landscapes and sweeping views of the Missouri River, the potential danger of nuclear radiation remains a significant concern. Anne Radford, a county parks department spokeswoman, admitted that although the public is not technically allowed access to the creek from hiking trails, there is no signage posted, and it is common to see people wading and exploring the creek bed.
Chapman believes that immediate action is necessary. “A no-trespassing [sign] is the very least that has to happen,” she said. “I seriously doubt if the Army Corps approaches the county about signs that St. Louis County is going to say, ‘No.'”
In 2016, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended people avoid getting in the creek or playing along it. As the cleanup efforts continue, the focus remains on ensuring the safety of park visitors and residents in the surrounding communities. The successful testing and remediation at Fort Belle Fontaine Park could serve as a crucial step in addressing the ongoing issue of nuclear radiation contamination in the region.