ALTON — An award-winning ﬁlm will explore the legacy of nuclear waste in the St. Louis region.
Jacoby Arts Center, 627 East Broadway, presents a free screening of the documentary ﬁlm “The First Secret City” at 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 21.
Told through the eyes of an overexposed worker, the story reveals a toxic pathway that leads to a fiery terminus at a smoldering landﬁll. Nuclear waste dumped near the airport, carried by wind and rain into Coldwater Creek, is believed to account for child mortality and high cancer rates for those who live nearby.
Before the West Lake Landﬁll in Bridgeton caught ﬁre, freelance reporter C.D. Stelzer was uncovering a forgotten history of radioactive waste contamination in Madison. In the 1940s the Manhattan Project hired Mallinckrodt Chemical Works of St. Louis to reﬁne the ﬁrst uranium used in the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.
Filmmaker Alison Carrick joined Stelzer to follow a trail of contamination from Mallinckrodt’s north riverfront factories to Dow Chemical across the Mississippi to Weldon Spring and Coldwater Creek.
Stelzer wonders why the region’s role in the early nuclear weapons buildup wasn’t more publicized.
“It’s still a secret city,” he says.
The title of the ﬁlm refers to Los Alamos and Oak Ridge, “secret cities” where scientists worked on the Manhattan Project. Much of St. Louis has remained a “secret city” because the history has been buried and ignored.
Following the documentary screening, Carrick, Stelzer and lead subject Larry Burgan of Granite City will answer questions about the research and making of the ﬁlm. Confronting a forgotten history, they will engage audience members in a discussion of experiences related to the social, environmental and physical toll of radioactive waste in the air, land and water.
“This continuing community dialogue is essential to help foster an understanding, appreciation and a sense of commitment about this often-overlooked issue,” Carrick said. “We are thankful to the Jacoby Arts Center for allowing this important discussion to continue.”
The film won the 2016 John Michaels Award at the Big Muddy Film Festival and was a ﬁnalist in the Blow Up Arthouse Film Festival in Chicago.
“I hope that people realize there are stories in their own back yard,” Carrick said. “We tend to think interesting stories happen in a faraway place.”
Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Admission is free and seating is open. The ﬁlm accompanies Running Water: Riverwork Project and Watershed Cairns, an exhibit also on view at Audubon Center at Riverlands and the National Great Rivers Museum. For information, visit jacobyartscenter.org.