Mini-Flood 48: Weldon Spring Site

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photo by Jason Gray

Ever been to a nuclear waste containment cell? Here is your chance! The Weldon Spring Site is at once terrifying and beautiful, a testament to both the destructive power of mankind and its capability to renew. Onsite is a Museum, the cell, and the surrounding Hamburg Trail (features information about the towns that had to be relocated for this project to occur).

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photo by Michelle Williams

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photo by Sue Rakers

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photo by Lina Walz-Salvador

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photo by Becky Sanders

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photo by Becky Sanders

As the U.S. war machine came back to life with the country’s entry into World War II, St. Louis once again played a prominent role in the development and manufacture of ordinance.  As a result, the Department of the Army acquired over 17,000 acres of land at Weldon Spring, causing the relocation of three towns (Howell, Hamburg and Toonerville), as a secure site for the production of TNT and DNT.  After the war, an early effort to decontaminate the government-licensed facilities resulted in the death of several workers.  The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was then employed to burn the soil and production facilities in place.  As well, more than 100,000 pounds of TNT and 80,000 pounds of DNT were incinerated on site.

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photo by Michelle Bates

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photo by Sue Rakers

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photo by Lina Walz-Salvador

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photo by Libby Kimutis

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photo by Michelle Williams

In the 1950’s, the Weldon Spring Site was reconsidered as a uranium feed materials plant, and in 1957, new operations contracted by Mallinckrodt Chemical Works began assaying yellow cake uranium.  Beginning in the 1960’s, former quarries at Weldon Spring were used to deposit waste materials from Mallinckrodt’s uranium processing plant downtown (site where uranium for one of the atom bombs dropped on Japan was refined) and from the Army’s arsenal in Granite City (several thousand barrels of radioactive waste came to Weldon Spring from this facility).  As the country entered into war in southeast Asia in the 1960’s, plans were made to produce Agent Orange at Weldon Spring, but this never came to pass.

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photo by Sue Rakers

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photo by Dan Henrichs

As the Weldon Spring Site was deactivated, a long and pronounced period passed of not knowing exactly what to do with the site or the waste material dumped there.  Throughout the 1970’s and 80’s, the Government sponsored innumerable studies resulting in sometimes incompatible conclusions.  Portions of the site were decontaminated or otherwise further isolated from contact, but the quarries remained the biggest problem, especially as they collected rain water and their impact on natural ecology and human settlements nearby (including a high school just yards away!) due to runoff was inconclusive.  The decision to make the site safe again was made in the early 1990’s, and efforts toward this aim continued over the decade following.  In October of 2001, the “last rock” was placed on the cap of a cell designed to encapsulate and stabilize the site’s radioactive material.  This cell measures 1400′ by 1400′ and stands over 75′ tall.  The next year, the Weldon Spring Site Interpretive Center opened; a veritable museum dedicated to the history (good and bad) of the site and surrounding area.

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photo by Dan Henrichs

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photo by Michelle Bates

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photo by Jason Gray

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photo by Libby Kimutis

Today, the grounds of Weldon Spring Site display the results of several departments’ hard work (both State and Federal) to return the setting to as natural state as possible.  Several migratory species are again using the area for their migrations through the region.  No doubt, this should be a stop on your list of places in or near St. Louis to see; from the excellent and informative Museum, to the views from the top of the cell, to a wilderness walk along Hamburg Trail, Weldon Spring Site has a little something for everyone.

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photo by Michelle Bates

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photo by Becky Sanders

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photo by Dan Henrichs

MAP:

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