Home / Blog / Josh Hawley’s push to expand radiation exposure benefits in St. Louis area advances

Josh Hawley’s push to expand radiation exposure benefits in St. Louis area advances

Jun 24, 2023Jun 24, 2023

WASHINGTON — Efforts to provide financial compensation to St. Louis-area residents exposed to nuclear radiation cleared a major legislative hurdle on Thursday.

In a vote that was described by Just Moms STL Co-Founder Dawn Chapman as “nothing short of a miracle,” the U.S. Senate voted 61-37 in favor of expanding an existing federally funded nuclear radiation exposure survivor program to include residents of St. Louis, St. Louis County and St. Charles County. The proposal was introduced by U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley, a Republican from Missouri.

“We’ve taken a big first step, but it is only a first step,” Hawley said to reporters following the vote.

The measure, which also has the backing of Missouri’s other U.S. senator, Republican Eric Schmitt, now heads to a conference committee that will include members of both chambers of Congress.

Local activists, including Chapman and fellow Just Moms co-founder Karen Nickel, have long called for expansion of the relief program. Officials previously estimated that as many 80,000 people have been sickened from exposure to radioactive or other harmful materials related to the St. Louis region’s role as a production center for the war effort in the 1940s.

“It becomes awfully hard to vote no when you learn that it was the federal government that caused this. It was not an act of nature, or an accident, but the federal government’s negligence that has caused this all,” Hawley said.

Hawley said he hopes to inform members of the conference committee, once they are selected, on how widespread of an impact the nuclear testing had in Missouri and in other states.

U.S. Sen. Ben Ray Luján, a Democrat from New Mexico, also spoke in favor of the proposal Thursday before the vote.

“Not enough people have focused on the collateral damage caused by our nation’s nuclear weapons testing programs,” Luján said in a speech on the Senate floor, noting the impact of nuclear weapons testing in New Mexico and other states.

In his remarks to reporters, Hawley said the program, if eventually signed into law by President Joe Biden, would likely be administered by the Missouri Attorney General’s office and could be ready within “weeks or months” of the National Defense Authorization Act’s passage. Among the items included in the defense bill is the program’s expansion and a proposal to extend a benefits program for survivors of 9/11.

Residents of areas that are eligible for reimbursement would be able to apply for it if their medical condition has been directly linked to nuclear radiation exposure. Residents could also opt to receive a one-time, $50,000 payment from the federal government or to file survivor’s benefits if their next of kin’s death was caused by radiation exposure.

According to the amendment, claimants would have to document that they were “physically present in an affected area” — defined by 20 ZIP code areas — for at least two years after Jan. 1, 1949.

In addition, they would have to provide evidence of a “specified disease,” including certain kinds of cancer, leukemia, multiple sclerosis, and lymphoma. (The diseases are spelled out in the amendment.)

Affected ZIP code areas, which cover most of north St. Louis County, the north riverfront area of St. Louis and a large swath of St. Charles County anchored by Weldon Spring, are 63031, 63033, 63034, 63042, 63045, 63074, 63114, 63135, 63138, 63044, 63140, 63145, 63147, 63102, 63304, 63134, 63043, 63341, 63368 and 63367.

While the measure moves forward, efforts to force the U.S. Senate’s Energy Committee to hold hearings on the contamination and for President Biden, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, and other federal officials to tour contaminated sites in St. Louis and St. Charles counties have not progressed.

“We’ve heard nothing from them, which is absolutely sickening after what this region has been through and what these folks have been through,” Hawley said.

Hawley has also called for the release of documents related to testing at various sites in the region and for soil testing to be conducted at every school in the region after reports of uranium contamination at the now-shuttered Jana Elementary School in Florissant.

“I believe that the cleanup of these sites is absolutely vital — and that needs to go forward,” Hawley said. “And it needs to forward on a lot faster timeline and a lot more thoroughly than what the government is pursuing it now.”

Editor’s note: This report was updated on Saturday, July 29, to include details about the proposed compensation plan.

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