Executive Director, Jared Opsal.

“To be self-evident, we hold these truths that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” Most of us learned this passage from the U.S. Constitution when we were kids, and our society routinely discusses them. However, as The Constitution implies, there are other unalienable rights that we all possess — which are that the right to breathe clean air and to clean water, the right to healthy foods and to clean and safe public lands should all be considered essential and fundamental. Each of these issues impacts our health and well-being, and many of us have personal stories of how our unalienable environmental rights have been infringed upon.

My personal story is related to the environmental and public health disaster of Coldwater Creek. Due to years of inaction and negligence, thousands of people living and working in North St. Louis County near Coldwater Creek were exposed to radioactive waste left unattended and open to the elements. This exposure has led to a variety of negative health effects for the people who have lived there or continue to live in the area. One of those people was my father.

Radioactive waste site by Coldwater Creek. 2019.

Living in North St. Louis County near Coldwater Creek from birth to 24 years old, it is all but certain that the cancer my father was diagnosed with was caused by the ionizing radiation stemming from that nuclear waste. This led to a nine-year fight with the disease, until he passed away in 2016.

It was not until groups such as Coldwater Creek – Just the Facts Please and Just Moms STL, with assistance from MCE, began investigating and holding people accountable did we learn about the clusters of rare forms of cancers in the areas surrounding the creek. If not for the work of volunteers, other organizations, and staff of our coalition, the public would not know about these injustices. Then, we were finally given an answer for what happened to my father and thousands of others in that area. Although the watchdog work is not done, there is now a path for the future to ensure that no one else will suffer needlessly from this man-made disaster.

It is enticing to assume our governmental agencies and elected officials are overseeing issues such as Coldwater Creek to protect our lives and health, but we know this is not always the case. Money has always influenced some of these people and groups — whether it be a lack of funding to conduct proper oversight or an influx of money to look the other way. To an individual, this may seem insurmountable, but coalitions of individuals and organizations working together can overcome these obstacles. It has worked for countless environmental issues in the past, and it will continue to do so in the future with all our voices joined to demand our unalienable rights.