NOTE: This is not a copy of: Is the illegal nuclear waste at The Westlake Nuclear Landfill a risk to public health? which is a different nearby nuclear landfill that has a different issue of a Subsurface Smoldering Event (SSE) aka: underground fire. The current question you are reading is the one with the supposed cancer clusters around it.


Inspired by the new HBO documentary called Atomic Homefront which can be viewed free until Mar 18

"Until the 1970s, radioactive materials were stored in bulk, on the ground, open to the elements, and unattended at sites on and adjacent to Coldwater Creek,"

This Question refers to the 1 of 3 the nuclear landfill sites in residential/commercial areas in the St. Louis, MO area. These landfills are a result of the leftovers from the Manhattan Project.

Coldwater Creek Nuclear Landfill

The Claim I'm challenging:

this article claims that an expert says it's fine.

Sasa Mutic, the director of radiation oncology physics at Washington University School of Medicine, indicated the risks from exposure are akin to driving a car.

I'm already skeptical because the landfill was a secret to the public and illegal. Also, it was never properly covered up and still isn't properly covered. Furthermore, the unusual amounts of cancers, specifically rare cancers, and other diseases around that area from people who live there and used to live there, and the barely safe levels radiation found on peoples yards 6" below their soil.

  • 6
    "Akin to driving a car"... looking at motor vehicle fatality in the USA, that's not as negligible a number as it might appear at first glance.
    – DevSolar
    Feb 26, 2018 at 14:40
  • @DevSolar You cannot compare nuclear waste leakage to motor vehicle fatalities. Motor vehicles fatalities are typically instant. The impact radiation has on health are much more varied. Death is only one side effect. Also, the death is slow and painful, not instant like a motor fatality. Feb 26, 2018 at 14:59
  • 4
    You are still missing the point of my first comment. Driving a car is by no means without its dangers, as a five-digit number of traffic deaths per year attest to. That the "expert" Mr. Mutic likens the effects of this nuclear landfill to the dangers of driving a car, in an obvious attempt to alleviate concerns about it, does strike me as underhanded. So we're mostly on the same page here.
    – DevSolar
    Feb 26, 2018 at 15:25
  • 1
    @NuclearFallout Oh, I see. The usual format we follow here @ skeptics, is to have as direct quote of the claim as possible. For example you can write something like : The HBO documentary "Atomic Homefront" claims that "the landfill is causing cancer". Ideally a link to the video or text where the claim is made will be added. A clear and direct claim is easy to examine, but if the films says "people worry about the health effects of the landfill" - there is no claim here.
    – ventsyv
    Feb 26, 2018 at 20:43
  • 1
    I would agree that the question could be better structured to focus on the claim, such as "Is it plausible that the health risk from radiation at the Coldwater Creek Nuclear Landfill akin to the risk of driving a car?" Much of the other material is tangential to that question, such as the graphic in an earlier version that showed self-reported claims of illness that may have been related to the landfill. Feb 26, 2018 at 23:51

1 Answer 1


The Claim I'm challenging:

this article claims that an "expert" says it's fine.

Sasa Mutic is a PhD in radiooncology and the chair of the radiation safety committee at Washington School of Medicine. So his credentials as an expert check out, and I can't find any sources indicating he didn't say it's fine. So I'd say the article's claim is true.

But I assume you're actually challenging

Sasa Mutic ... indicated the risks from exposure are akin to driving a car.

In this EPA report, which mind you says

Based on these results, the EPA announced in August 2017 that stormwater and sediment at the perimeter of the site do not pose an unacceptable risk to public health.

radiologically impacted material (RIM) is defined as material having certain activity levels of radium, thorium, or uranium. If you run the activity numbers given with the dose equivalent of radium, you get that the threshold is 1 mSv/g (which is probably the real definition). This would only require about a third of an ounce to get the CT equivalent (~10 mSv), but the report also says these levels exist about 30ft underground. This fits with the article's claim that even eating handfuls of dirt at the landfill would not give a significant dose. It would of course be a serious health risk, but that's because you're eating dirt from a landfill.

The car crash thing also checks out. The lifetime risk of fatality in a car is about 0.5%. The article correctly states (and cites) that the lifetime increase in cancer risk from a CT scan is estimated to be 0.1%, which is significantly less than car crashes. But as also correctly stated in the article, your lifetime cancer risk is already 40%. So if you live in that area and get cancer, over 99% of the time you were going to get it anyways.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Oddthinking
    Mar 1, 2018 at 6:00

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