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High levels of radioactive waste discovered at Missouri elementary school
Hazelwood School Board President Betsy Rachel at Tuesday’s school board meeting (Image Source: KSDK video screenshot)

High levels of radioactive waste discovered at Missouri elementary school

On Tuesday, a Missouri elementary school was forced to close its doors after radioactive waste was detected on campus.

Boston Chemical Data Corp. reported last week that high levels of radioactive contamination were discovered in the classrooms, ball fields, playground, kitchen, library, and HVAC system on the Jana Elementary School campus.

On the kindergarten playground, the investigation uncovered radioactive isotope lead-210 levels 22 times higher than naturally occurring radiation levels. Other locations throughout the school contained high levels of polonium and radium.

In a statement released on Friday, the district said it is aware of the report.

"Safety is always our top priority, and we are actively discussing the implications of the findings," the district stated. "The Board of Education will be consulting with attorneys and experts in this area of testing to determine the next steps."

The school board voted on Tuesday evening to close the campus and continue classes remotely until students can be transferred to another school in the district. Officials noted that it would take time to clean up the contamination properly.

The Missouri school opened in the 1970s and is located next to a former nuclear weapons plant. Boston Chemical Data Corp. was hired by law firms litigating a class-action lawsuit to test the property for contamination.

Decades ago, nuclear waste from World War II, as part of the Manhattan Project, was dumped near Lambert St. Louis International Airport. The wind and rain swept the contaminants into Coldwater Creek, which runs by the school.

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, a division within the CDC, announced in 2019 that those exposed to the creek between the 1960s and 1990s might be at an increased risk of developing cancer.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers previously conducted a separate study and made the findings public in the summer. That investigation uncovered contaminants in a wooded area near the creek, but it did not find any radioactive material between that site and the school.

"The team has been coordinating with the Hazelwood School District regarding the status of sampling on the property," stated the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. "Any contamination posing a high risk or immediate threat to human health or the environment would be made a priority for remediation."

Phillip Moser, a program manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in St. Louis, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the report conducted by Boston Chemical was "incomplete and not consistent with the approved processes required to do an evaluation at one of our sites."

Lee Sobotka, Washington University professor of physics and chemistry, told KMOV that the study's presentation was "biased" and argued that there is no immediate risk to anyone at the school.

Christen Commuso with the Missouri Coalition for the Environment told the news outlet that the district should have done more to protect students.

"The reality is they knew in 2018, they knew the Army Corps was interested in testing this property, and at that point, they should have had a plan in place and ready to pull the trigger as soon as they got results," stated Commuso.

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