Weldon Spring—Army Ordnance Works, Quarry/Plant/Pits
Weldon Spring is an unusually toxic site, so of course has an especially rich Fun Story. It all began with WWII, when the Army demolished 3 thriving towns to manufacture TNT and other explosives, and continued during the Cold War, when the Atomic Energy Commission contracted with Mallinckrodt Chemical Works to process uranium for atomic bombs—which generated loads more patriotic fun, along with huge piles of radioactive and chemical waste. In 1967, the Army tried to repurpose the plant to make Agent Orange, but decided (fun fact!) it was just way too contaminated. The feds abandoned the plant site, but generously left behind thousands of unmarked storage drums—all oozing nuclear and chemical waste in fun rainbow colors—and also acres of wastewater pits, leaking pipes, and exposed asbestos, along with a wonderfully porous limestone quarry full of radioactive debris.
Happily, though, they ensured that locals and visitors alike could enjoy tons of nearby fun, as the feds sold off the rest of the site to create a high school, an Army training reserve, and several big state parks—all while the locals were developing high rates of assorted cancers, pleading for a clean-up, and having fun filing lawsuits against the EPA.
After 25 years, in 1991, the Department of Energy finally launched a major 14-year cleanup, which began with an unusually fun “what’s in this unmarked drum?” game. Ultimately, the DOE built a vast “disposal cell”—an amusing term for a 41-acre rock-covered mountain, stuffed with 1.48 million cubic yards of nuclear and chemical waste—which is now the tallest point in St. Charles County and offers incredible scenic views. The DOE’s new Office of Legacy Management (OLM)—yet more fun wordplay, for the agency that manages U.S. decommissioned nuclear sites—built a staircase to the top, which St. Louisans have affectionately dubbed the Nuclear Waste Adventure Trail, and also constructed a snazzy new interpretive center (5 stars on Yelp!), where you can have a great deal of fun learning about the history of American ingenuity and patriotism. And don’t forget the adjacent Weldon Spring Conservation Area, where you can hike, bike, fish, and hunt, and also, as the state brochure urges, forage for berries, mushrooms (think mushroom clouds), and wild greens.
All, of course, while the capital fun gallops apace, as contractors continue to monitor the air and water in perpetuity—and also to manage the federal compensation program, to share some of the wealth and fun with many thousands of workers, who have been exposed, often without their knowledge or consent, to all the radiation and toxic chemicals over the last 72 years.
To understand the larger Fun Story of all the connected nuclear waste sites in the St. Louis region, see also West Lake Landfill and St. Louis Airport.