Granite City resident Bill Hoppe (left) appeared in the 2015 documentary “The Safe Side of the Fence.”
GRANITE CITY — Ever since “The Safe Side of The Fence” documentary came out a year ago, it has been successful.
The movie won awards from the St. Louis Filmmakers Showcase for best documentary and best director. It also had nominations from the St. Louis International Film Festival and the River’s Edge International Film Festival in Paducah, Ky.
“The film has done really well,” director Tony West said. “I showed it in Nevada and in Colorado by the Rocky Flats plant.”
The movie examines how the Mallinckrodt Chemical Co. in St. Louis was responsible for refining massive amounts of uranium for the Manhattan Project and how its employees succumbed to illnesses caused by exposure to nuclear waste.
The film also explains how workers and residents at the former Dow chemical plant in Madison reportedly had been chronically exposed to radioactive contamination.
“I started looking at what this plant was doing over there in the first place,” said West, who started working on the movie in 2010. “Plus, I discovered that they were subcontractors for Mallinckrodt. I started looking at Mallinckrodt and I thought this was like peeling back an onion. There were a lot of layers in the story.”
Other sites in the St. Louis area such as Weldon Spring, Coldwater Creek and West Lake Landfill also were contaminated.
“What I wanted to do is have people to sit down in less than two hours watching this film and see how all of these different sites were tied in,” West said.
The movie will be shown at 7 p.m. Monday, Oct. 17, at the Missouri History Museum in Forest Park.
“I thought Tony West did a really good job of documenting different stuff,” said Granite City resident Bill Hoppe, who got to see the film on Nov. 15, 2015, in St. Louis.
Hoppe and Don Thompson, a Granite City alderman, both appeared in the movie. They worked at the Dow chemical plant, which was called Spectrulite Consortium. Dow processed uranium at the plant in the late 1950s and early 1960s under an agreement with Mallinckrodt.
“Workers like Bill Hoppe and Don Thompson suffered from cancer over there and they felt like the plant got very contaminated,” West said. “They felt like, ‘Hey, we should be part of this compensation program.’”
The compensation program is called the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act, which was passed in 2000 and was designed to compensate individuals who worked in nuclear weapons production and contracted illnesses.
“One of the things that tied all of this together for some other worker and some other state is that compensation program,” West said. “They had their struggles and their frustrations with that program. If they looked at Bill Hoppe and Don Thompson, they would say, ‘I would do the same thing those guys went through.’”
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.
“They’re both around the same age and they both lost their fathers from exposure from the radioactive materials,” West said.
“The Safe Side of The Fence” is the first movie West directed. It was first shown on July 19 at the Tivoli in St. Louis as part of the St. Louis Filmmakers Showcase.
“People want to see the film,” said West, who is from University City. “When they see it, they’re not bored by it. They love the film. They’re really passionate about it.”
The movie is out on DVD. For information, visit thesafesideofthefence.com.