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Cleanup started after chemical spill near St. Louis airport

The EPA said the spill of 1,000 gallons of wastewater from the Boeing Co. "likely made its way to Coldwater Creek."

HAZELWOOD, Mo. — The Environmental Protection Agency said another agency would take over the cleanup of a chemical that likely reached Coldwater Creek.

The Missouri Department of Natural Resources (MoDNR) was expected to lead the cleanup in a news release sent Wednesday.

The EPA said in a statement that trivalent chromium compounds were released from a Boeing Co. wastewater treatment plant Tuesday. There were 1,000 gallons of wastewater released, according to the EPA.

The treatment plant is near St. Louis Lambert International Airport.

An EPA spokesperson said the MoDNR notified the EPA of the potential release at 1:30 on Tuesday. EPA immediately began the process of evaluating the call including coordinating with the MoDNR and Boeing. An EPA On-Scene Coordinator (responder) was dispatched at approximately 3 p.m. and arrived at 4 p.m.

The EPA said Boeing stopped the release and started sampling water from Coldwater Creek. The Missouri Department of Natural Resources was also expected to test the water.

"If there were an immediate threat to life, the local first responders would communicate that directly to the news media and the public," the release said.

The EPA initially reported the spill was hexavalent chromium (Cr VI), a carcinogen. The agency later shared that the "contaminant of concern is most likely trivalent chromium or Cr III."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say trivalent chromium can irritate the respiratory system when inhaled.

The MoDNR's website shares the following background on the facility:

"From 1941 until 1997, the McDonnell Douglas Corp. operated an aerospace manufacturing facility at the site, located at James S. McDonnell Blvd. and N. Lindbergh Blvd., next to St. Louis Lambert International Airport, in Hazelwood. Approximately 48 different hazardous waste streams were produced as part of the facility operations. McDonnell Douglas stored the hazardous waste in several accumulation areas and three permitted hazardous waste container storage areas located on the facility property. In August 1997, McDonnell Douglas merged with The Boeing Co., who stopped operating as a permitted hazardous waste storage facility and closed the permitted hazardous waste container storage areas."

Boeing issued a statement Wednesday, saying:

Boeing is actively investigating and responding to a wastewater release from its Industrial Wastewater Treatment Plant into Coldwater Creek. After Boeing detected abnormalities in the operation of the treatment plant, the company quickly notified the National Response Center (NRC), the Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD), the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 

At this point, testing indicates a small volume of industrial wastewater was released to the creek.  The cause of the release has been mitigated and containment measures have been implemented. Boeing will continue to work with the NRC, MSD, MDNR and EPA to determine the next steps.

While Dawn Chapman applauds these clean-up efforts, the environmental activist is discouraged the news wasn't released sooner. 

She said their organization Just Moms STL got a call from the EPA Tuesday afternoon.

Chapman then reached out to 5 On Your Side to release the news.

"It is a very simple ask. The public wants to keep up to date. If it's a minor spill great, but communicate that. It can be very triggering whenever something happens with the creek and there's a spill," Chapman added. 

Chapman wanted more urgency.

Almost 24 hours later, the EPA made a Facebook post about the problem.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency - Region 7 (IA, KS, MO, NE) on-scene coordinator and contractors have begun the...

Posted by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency - Region 7 (IA, KS, MO, NE) on Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Chapman believes it may have been too late, as rumors started to circulate.

"There was a post in a local community paste where someone commented that the haze from Canadian wildfire is from the spill from Coldwater Creek and we're doing damage control. They missed an opportunity to make people feel at ease," she added. 

Chapman urges signs to be put up near the creek. For now, she continues to advocate for change.

"This creek has a lot of discharge in it, a lot of runoff, they need to stay out of it. People should not be in it," she shared.

Contamination in Coldwater Creek

People living near Coldwater Creek have expressed concerns for years after World War II-era radioactive waste was improperly stored near the creek.

Reports have shown an elevated rate of cancer in people living in the eight ZIP codes around the creek compared to the rest of Missouri.

A study from Boston Chemical Data Corp. tested radiation levels at an elementary school near Coldwater Creek in 2022, finding "high levels" of radioactive lead. Studies from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers showed the school did not have dangerous levels of radiation.

Read more about Coldwater Creek.

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