ST. LOUIS – The U.S. House approved an $886 billion national defense policy bill on Thursday. The bill now heads to President Joe Biden’s desk for review after clearing the Senate earlier this week.
The latest-approved version of the National Defense Authorization Act does not include compensation for victims of waste around the St. Louis area.
Missouri U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley has been pushing to expand coverage under the annual defense bill’s Radiation Exposure Compensation Act for several months. He previously proposed a RECA amendment to fund victims who suffered an autoimmune virus, a genetic disorder, or cancer from radioactive contamination in the St. Louis area that stems back to the World War II era.
Hawley told FOX 2 on Thursday, with the annual defense bill clearing both legs of Congress, it’s no longer possible for this year’s bill to include compensation for St. Louis-area nuclear radioactive victims.
“Because of the deal Congressional leadership made, they’ve closed up the NDAA,” said Hawley. “It can’t be amended. You can’t do anything to it.”
A new report surfaced earlier this year suggesting that the federal government downplayed and failed to fully investigate the risks of nuclear waste contamination that stemmed from the Manhattan Project in St. Louis County.
The issue was also brought to national attention last year when environmental investigation consultants pointed out radioactive contamination at Jana Elementary School in north St. Louis County. There are also prolonged concerns about the West Lake landfill in Bridgeton, Coldwater Creek through multiple municipalities, and a former uranium plant site in Weldon Spring.
Hawley says he plans to refile legislation to compensate victims.
“This is not the end,” said Hawley. “We’re going to go right back into the fight, and we’re going to get this thing passed. If it takes my whole time in the Senate to do it, that’s what we’ll do. But I’m not going to walk away from this. I’m not going to take no for an answer.”
Hawley also insisted that he would do everything within his power to slow down the passage of this year’s NDAA.
“I’m going to make it as slow and cumbersome as possible to pass this bill,” said Hawley. “I am not going to vote for defense contractors getting billions of dollars and the people of Missouri getting nothing. It is incredibly wrong. It is a moral offense. And I’m not going to participate in it.”
Several St. Louis-area advocates for Hawley’s efforts made a trip to Washington D.C. last month to lobby for support.
“We know it’s a hard decision. We know it’s expensive, but we think the American citizens are worth it,” said Dawn Chapman, co-founder of activists group Just Moms STL. “We think that they paid a high price, and our kids are worth it.”
“We have to have this pass,” said Karen Nickel. “There are people that are in dire need of compensation because of bankruptcies and cancers. The government did this to us. It wasn’t our fault. We didn’t do anything wrong.”
As for current remedial efforts to clean up radioactive waste, Hawley says more needs to be done.
“This should’ve been done years ago,” said Hawley. “The fact that Coldwater Creek still has radioactive contamination in it, and that Jana Elementary is still closed because of that contamination is obscene. It is inexplicable. There is no defense of it.”
“We’ve got to get it cleaned up, and we’ve got to get the people of St. Louis and St. Charles compensated for what their own government has done to them.”
Hawley said he also planned to echo similar sentiments on the Senate floor on Thursday and hopes to instill some urgency for compensation and cleanup.