Discovery of radioactive waste worries Missouri school

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FLORISSANT, Mo. (AP) — Radioactive waste in a meandering creek in part of suburban St. Louis has long been suspected of causing rare cancers and other health problems in residents who live nearby. Now, new studies suggest that Coldwater Creek also caused contamination around – and possibly inside – an elementary school.

Students are still attending Jana Elementary School in Florissant, Missouri, despite a new report from a private company that found radioactive material well above the expected level for the school which sits in the Coldwater Creek floodplain. . The Hazelwood School Board plans to meet behind closed doors on Tuesday evening to discuss what should be done next.

According to a Boston Chemical Data Corp. report, contamination was found in classrooms and the library, in the HVAC system, on the playground and in nearby fields. The study conducted earlier this month was carried out on behalf of law firms involved in a class action lawsuit. lawsuit – one of many claims for compensation for those who blame illness or death for living near the creek.

The Boston Chemical study cited levels of the radioactive isotope lead-210 that were 22 times the level expected on the kindergarten playground. He also found high levels of polonium, radium, and other materials at various locations in the school.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say high levels of radiation can increase cancer risk, while high lead levels can impact a child’s development and attention span.

“The corrective measures are appropriate to reduce exposure to radioactive material for users of the school building and grounds, but are complicated by the potential for recontamination due to flooding of contaminated Coldwater Creek,” the report said.

The private study follows a review by the Army Corps of Engineers that found radioactive contamination in a field near the school. The Body study did not examine the playground or the interior of the school.

“Safety is always our top priority, and we are actively discussing the implications of the discovery,” read a statement from the district. “The Board of Education will consult with lawyers and experts in this area of ​​testing to determine next steps.”

The school – which is in a housing estate surrounded by homes – opened in the 1970s and has educated thousands of children, said Christen Commuso of the Missouri Coalition for the Environment. While the area along Coldwater Creek is racially mixed, approximately 80% of Jana Elementary’s 400 students are black.

“You’re talking about kids over the decades who have been exposed to this.” Commuso said.

Nuclear waste from World War II weapons production under the Manhattan Project contaminated Coldwater Creek. Mallinckrodt Chemical Co. processed uranium ore in St. Louis from 1942 to 1957 and shipped the waste to a site near Lambert Airport beside Coldwater Creek.

The contamination was about half of the 19-mile-long creek that empties into the Missouri River. The Environmental Protection Agency designated the cove a Superfund site in 1989. Remediation efforts — digging up the contaminated soil and bringing it by boxcar to a waste management facility in Idaho — aren’t expected to be completed until 2038.

In 2019, the Federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry released a report indicating that people exposed to the creek from the 1960s through the 1990s may have an increased risk of bone cancer, lung cancer, and leukemia.

Dawn Chapman, co-founder of the environmental group Just Moms STL which lobbied for the cleanup of Coldwater Creek, acknowledged the difficulty of linking disease to contamination. But Chapman cited several former elementary school students who are now battling rare cancers and other illnesses, and former teachers who had children with life-threatening illnesses.

“Everybody’s just terrified,” Chapman said.

Phillip Moser, manager of the Corps of Engineers Formerly Used Sites Corrective Action Program in St. Louis, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the Boston Chemical report needed further evaluation.

“I already have questions about the findings,” Moser said.

Commuso and Chapman were alarmed by what they see as a lack of transparency from the school district. The Corps launched its study four years ago, but Commuso said the results only became public after obtaining the report this spring through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Even the school board was not informed of the results, Commuso said. She presented information on the Corps report to council members in June.

Ashley Bernaugh, president of the Jana Elementary Parent-Teacher Association, said the organization urges the district to begin cleanup immediately, even if it means moving the children to another building.

Eventually, Bernaugh said she wanted her son back in school.

“We love Jana Elementary,” Bernaugh said. “I will fight for this.”

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AP reporter John Hanna in Topeka, Kansas, contributed to this report.

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