ST. LOUIS - A Nobel Peace Prize nominee was in St. Louis Saturday to talk about nuclear waste that's contaminated parts of our area.
Lois Gibbs is known for her extensive activism at Love Canal, a nuclear waste site in New York. On Saturday, she spoke at a community meeting in Maryland Heights organizers say was centered on educating people about the radioactive West Lake Landfill and Coldwater Creek.
"Of all of the site's I've visited, and I've visited tons of sites across this country in the last 33 years, this is by far the worst," Gibbs said of West Lake.
The landfill is owned by Republic Services and contains World War II-era nuclear waste. It's adjacent to the Bridgeton Landfill, which has had an underground smoldering event for years.
"How do they expect families to live with that kind of terrible fact?" Gibbs said.
The activist is helping amplify the calls to remove the waste from West Lake.
"We've got to make the people in this community safe. That should be Republic's number one goal right now," said Chuck Stiles, the assistant director of the Teamsters Solid Waste Division.
Many of the people at the meeting either live near the West Lake Landfill or Coldwater Creek. The waterway streams through parts of north St. Louis County and was contaminated by the same waste as West Lake. Hundreds of people who grew up near the creek have developed illnesses they believe are related to exposure to the waste.
"Through Facebook I learned that 15 people just on my childhood street had passed away or were struggling with cancer, rare cancer," said Karen Nickel.
Nickel played in the creek as a child and now has a form Lupus.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is already working to clean up Coldwater Creek. Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency, which oversees West Lake, has repeatedly said the landfill poses no public health concern.
A group of protesters gathered outside Saturday's meeting to rally against the calls to remove the nuclear waste. They were gone before NewsChannel 5's crew arrived. But a reporter did talk to Molly Teichman, a spokesperson for the Coalition to Keep Us Safe. The group is sponsored by the owners of the landfill.
"Across the state there's becoming more awareness to the idea that there may be alternatives to the long-held idea that the waste would need to be removed," said Teichman. "And there are more people talking about, 'Couldn't it be mitigated there and what are the safety concerns about leaving it?'"
Activist Kay Drey has started petitions to the St. Louis Board of Aldermen and the St. Louis County Council to have the waste removed from the West Lake Landfill.
Just Moms STL and the Missouri Coalition for the Environment helped sponsor the meeting.