GRANITE CITY — Eight months ago, “The Safe Side of the Fence” documentary was shown at the Tivoli in St. Louis.
Directed by Tony West, the movie examines how workers and residents at the former Dow chemical plant in Madison reportedly had been chronically exposed to radioactive contamination.
On July 9, the movie was shown again at the Granite City Cinema.
“It would be a good show for the area to see it,” said Bill Hoppe, a former Dow employee. “I’d like to see it on television a couple of times.”
Hoppe, 76, got to see the film on Nov. 15 in St. Louis.
“It shows different things,” Hoppe said. “They don’t show a lot with where Dow Chemical was and how much they put it into place. I’d like to see more of that. But other than that, I thought they did a really good job.”
Hoppe and Don Thompson, a Granite City alderman who also worked at the chemical plant, appeared in the movie.
“I thought it was good from the start all the way through,” Hoppe said. “It’s an hour and 50 minutes long. It kind of wakes people up.”
Denise Brock of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and Denise DeGarmo, a professor in the Department of Political Science at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, also appeared in the film.
Hoppe said DeGarmo did a lot of investigating with the chemical plant.
“She was getting information on what they ran and how they ran it,” he said.
The film explains how radioactive waste contaminated numerous locations in the St. Louis area and some of them haven’t been cleaned up 70 years after the end of World War II.
The Madison plant was called Spectrulite Consortium, which was one of the low-priority radioactive sites nationwide identified by the Formerly Utilized Sites Remedial Action Program in the 1990s. Dow processed uranium at the plant in the late 1950s and early 1960s under an agreement with Mallinckrodt Chemical Co. in St. Louis.
“I think it’s really interesting, especially for people who haven’t been around with that and don’t know how dangerous that stuff is and what it does to people,” Hoppe said. “I’ve got 425 of so people who had prostate cancer from our plant and the natural average around here is 153 out of 100,000. The older people never talked about prostate cancer or anything, so we don’t know exactly how many were involved in it. We thought it’s all inherited from your family. But I say 90 percent of the names I got here were the only ones in their family who had prostate cancer. NIOSH said, ‘Well, maybe we have to look it at a different way after about 13 years.’ We might look at it different, but that’s what we’ve been fighting all along.”
Hoppe said in the movie, Dow said it never sent any radioactive metal out to the Rocky Flats Plant, a nuclear weapons production facility near Denver.
“We had stuff saying they did,” Hoppe said. “They used to send stuff back into the plant and they had to build barns. (Jay Burns) was the head of Dow Chemical’s metals. When they come back in, some of it we come right in and we have them loaded and put them right on a wagon. They take it to get it melted down and get rid of it.”
Hoppe said the Madison plant was the only place in the area that ran thorium, a radioactive actinide metal.
“It was licensed to run it,” Hoppe said. “The ground was saturated with radioactive materials. It shows that we’re not the only ones. Other plants like Mallinckrodt did the same thing and they don’t care about working people. They were supposed to give us protective holding and they never did it. They were supposed to give us badges where we worked around it and they never did. I worked there for 40 years and I wore a badge only one time. Then the government was in and as soon as they left, the foreman came out and said store it all into a bucket. Two weeks later, they threw it all in the trash and they were told to get it out here. That’s the only greeting we ever got, just destroy the trash and away it goes. So they didn’t do anything to help the people or anything like that. It kind of shows it in the movie. It kind of wakes you up when you see it because of the number of people that were involved in this. All it is was corporate greed. They just dumped it wherever they could and they still do it.”