(Joe Mueller, The Center Square) U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., and a bipartisan group of state and federal legislators on Thursday pledged at the site of a former World War II uranium plant in St. Charles to cleanup hazardous waste in the region and provide compensation for all suffering from exposure.
“It’s time to tell the truth – and the truth is – if the federal government created this disaster, and they did, the federal government should clean it,” Hawley said during a press conference in front of a 41-acre, 75-foot-high enclosure containing hazardous waste from the 1940s. “If the federal government has poisoned the air, the water and the soil that has made so many people sick, there is a simple and just solution: The federal government should pay the medical bills of every person who has been sick because of it.”
The press conference was assembled by State Rep. Tricia Byrnes, R-Wentzville, who said she worked with the group “Just Moms STL” to continually seek government assistance for dealing with multiple hazardous waste sites in St. Louis and St. Charles.
“Our region has been so desensitized to the insanity that has happened to us,” Byrnes said, admitting she didn’t reveal her efforts while running for the House due to possible voter backlash. “Our region was number one in the world for World War II bombs and ammunition and we started the Manhattan Project. But we still don’t have a cleanup site anywhere in this region, including this one. It’s a contained site, but it’s still not cleaned.”
Dawn Chapman from “Just Moms STL” said her group obtained through a records request approximately 15,000 pages of documents revealing the government knew the danger of the radioactive waste. They handed over the documents to three media outlets and they jointly published their analysis earlier this week.
“We read through and highlighted them during COVID because, during COVID, nobody knew if they’d be alive in six months,” Chapman said. “And we couldn’t be the only ones in the world who had read these. … We have a path forward to fix it, to get St. Louis cleaned up, to help these people who have been exposed and to make this right. I wish the government would have done this, but it didn’t.”
The lawmakers admitted there will be many challenges getting legislation passed for cleanup and compensation.
“This legislation is going to be a big uphill climb and we need every one of you,” Byrnes said. “You’re going to have to be leaders, you’re going to have to reach out to people.”
Hawley said he would hold up nominations, interrupt hearings and continually go to the Senate floor until an initiative is passed.
“We seem to have an unlimited source of money to buy and sell weapons for other countries’ wars, but we can’t do anything for anybody here?” Hawley asked. “Why is it that we can spend hundreds of billions of dollars on wars overseas, but in this community, we can’t lift a finger.”