In the vast doom-laden world of green activism, there’s no stronger advocate for environmental regulations than the humble mother worried about her child’s welfare. She’s the ultimate virtuous voice—nurturing, caring, innocent and untouched by industry’s big advocacy machine.
Environmentalists understand the power and efficiency of moms. Instead of employing high powered, blue-suited lobbyists to meet with legislators or retaining crack PR teams to generate weekly press releases which lead to terrifying news headlines, sophisticated environmental groups are increasingly utilizing these “stroller brigades,” which like an emergency response team, can be deployed at a moment’s notice to push a political agenda.
This tactic is catching on. In the St. Louis area, the Teamsters have been leading an effort to get the state of Missouri to purchase hundreds of properties from homeowners who believe their land has been contaminated by a nearby landfill. Of course, the Teamsters aren’t exactly known for their warm and fuzzy advocacy (just ask Top Chef’s Padma Lakshmi, who used the word “terrified” to describe her face-to-face run in with the Teamsters Union). So, naturally, the labor group needed a softer ally.
Enter Just Moms STL, which presents itself as a grassroots organization made up of concerned moms who live close to the West Lake Landfill and who have joined with the Teamsters to agitate about the landfill and demand a big land purchase payout.
West Lake isn’t so different from other landfills. It’s not pretty and for years residents have complained about the smell but have been ignored by the EPA and local officials. Recently, activists switched gears. No longer just complaining about the aesthetics of the dump, Just Moms STL began claiming something altogether new and far scarier about the West Lake Landfill—that it was emitting radiation left there in the 1970s and was sickening residents.
After a thorough investigation—including the collection and analysis of 140 soil and dust samples from the area—by the Environmental Protection Agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Army Corps and Engineers, and the state of Missouri, all agreed that the concentrations of radiation were within the normal range and below the EPA standard.
Yet, Just Moms STL wasn’t satisfied by the testing and began a campaign that suggested West Lake Landfill was similar to another contamination that occurred in the neighboring town of Hazelwood, Missouri, which sits near a small tributary called Coldwater Creek. For years, a group of concerned citizens in Coldwater Creek area—mainly moms—complained about a cancer cluster in their community.
Reconnecting on Facebook about a decade after graduating from college, these citizens—who grew up in the 80s and all lived around Coldwater Creek, many of whom had since moved away—noticed that many (too many) had developed a variety of cancers. Some of the cancers were extremely rare, yet there were multiple cases occurring within the small population in that community.
Due to incomplete testing, the Coldwater Creek citizens’ claims were first dismissed by state and federal officials. But thanks to their persistence, and their willingness to work together with the EPA and other state and local officials, testing was eventually done that showed contamination in the area. That group of citizens continues to work in good faith with local, state and federal officials and persists in their efforts demand better protections for residents of areas where radioactive materials leftover from the Manhattan Project are deposited. The work of the Cold Water Creek group is rightfully seen as a success story of community activists working alongside government officials to find a solution.
Yet, sadly, the tragic situation in Cold Water Creek is now being used by groups like Just Moms STL as a tool to stoke fear of radiological contamination in other communities where none exist.
For instance, unlike Coldwater Creek, West Lake Landfill is not a forgotten dumping ground for radiological waste. Rather, it is a highly regulated and monitored landfill that has been on the EPA’s Superfund list for clean up since the 70s. And while the delay in remediating the radiological material buried deep underground is another grating example of the hassle of government red tape, multiple studies have shown that the waste that remains there poses no danger to residents.
Further, it shows that rather than buying out all the homes in the area, a capping remediation plan is a far better and less disruptive solution for residents. Capping isolate hazardous material from people and wildlife and prevents it from spreading. It also creates a barrier so that gasses aren’t released. Yet, that sort of cleanup is far less lucrative than the buyout that Just Moms STL and the Teamsters have demanded.
The Erin Brockovication of activism has developed over decades. And today, no movement is complete without a team of women—preferably moms—storming legislative offices and demanding to be heard. But political leaders and agency heads must be listen to the interests of all their constituents, not just those that know how to tug on heartstrings.