Radioactive waste isn’t likely the first thing that comes to mind when one sees the famed Gateway Arch in St. Louis. But for those who watch Rebecca Cammisa’s gripping, impactful documentary “Atomic Homefront,” that association will be impossible to shake.
The city served as a processing center for the uranium used in the Manhattan Project in the 1940s, with waste being dumped in and infecting two St. Louis suburbs. Decades later, cancers and other diseases linked to radioactive exposure plague the residents of Coldwater Creek. Meanwhile, in nearby Bridgeton, a subsurface fire in a landfill inches closer to the radioactive waste that is also buried there. Though the government and the corporations responsible refused to address the issues, two community organizations — Just Moms STL and Just the Facts Please — took up the fight for their towns themselves.
“Atomic Homefront” is a both a fiery indictment of systemic inaction and a tribute to the work of those battling for their families’ safety. Cammisa does a good job of establishing context for the current situations in Coldwater Creek and Bridgeton, as well as acknowledging the sense of urgency. She has directed a film that deftly balances the science behind what is happening in Missouri with the experiences — and emotions — of the residents. The result should drive awareness and action in audiences.
Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes
Playing: Laemmle Playhouse 7, Pasadena