The Volvo for Life Awards has nominated five unsung heroes from each state who have made differences in their communities. In Missouri, the nominees include Denise Brock, whom Riverfront Times profiled in 2003 for her efforts at uncovering the truth behind the rash of cancer cases among plant workers at Mallinckrodt Chemical Works in St. Louis. During the 1940s and �50s, the plant on North Broadway supplied purified uranium for atomic bombs. Brock's father, a worker there, contracted cancer and later died.
While Brock and her mother Evelyn Coffelt were in court fighting for money to cover his expenses, they learned that he wasn't alone, and that the cancer rate among former Mallinckrodt workers was through the roof. Soon thereafter Brock founded United Nuclear Weapons Workers of St. Louis, and has worked to educate plant workers and their families to ensure that the United States government compensates former Mallinckrodt workers.
Ultimately the government paid Coffelt $300,000. She passed away in October of last year.
Even after receiving payment, Brock soldiered on, questioning the methods by which the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health [NIOSH] determined who was eligible for compensation. Using their math, says Brock, "only about 2 percent of those people would have been paid. Through what I did, about 95 percent got paid. I don't know how many millions this has paid out to Missouri workers, but it's been millions. It's still kicking out money.
"I had to fight scientists, doctors, health physicists," Brock goes on. "I had to shoot holes in their science." She laughs, then adds, "I flunked science in high school."
So effective was Brock that NIOSH has hired her as its ombudsman. "Now I actually help people all across the United States do what I did for these folks. I now actually help others. I get goosebumps," she says. "I sit down sometimes and I think: Who would have ever thought in a million years? I started this out of my home."
Geri L. Dreiling, who covered the story for RFT, is writing a book about Denise Brock's fight.
To vote for Brock -- or any of the other candidates -- go here, click on Missouri and submit your ballot. Voting ends February 4. Each of three winners will receive a $50,000 contribution to a charity of his or her choice; six finalists receive a $25,000 charitable contribution. One grand prize winner will also will receive a new Volvo to drive, every three years. (Volvo for Life -- get it?)