Then someone learned the Army Corps of Engineers was already tasked with cleaning up radioactive waste that had been there since the 1940s connected with the Manhattan Project. Not only was the government removing contaminated soil, it was dredging the creek for contaminated sediment, according to an official military fact sheet about the cleanup.
Wright had no idea, but radioactivity seemed to explain why it took so long for the cancer cases to crop up. Radiation exposure tends to have delayed health effects. It also explained why they were seeing second generation problems, she said.
"They're killing 50,000 people in Hiroshima with this stuff," she said. "What do you think it's going to do with us?"
The list snowballed, but the state's investigation didn't provide the results they wanted, in part because it missed many of her peers who moved away but lived in the area for several decades and got cancer, Wright said.
So Wright and her group started their own investigation, finding people who'd moved away using social media and asking them to participate in a survey. Ultimately, they found thousands of cases of cancer.
They found 3,300 instances of cancer in all, including 95 brain cancers and 37 appendix cancers, which are considered rare.
The state health department told ABCnews.com that it isn't commenting on their survey, however.
Smith, whose house backed up to the creek, said she will be on oral chemotherapy for the rest of her life because of her leukemia. She wasn't included in the study because she moved away before 1996, and says she hopes state researchers will reconsider their study findings.
"I'm willing to fight the battle," she said. "It's worth fighting."