Radioactive waste found in Missouri elementary school

FLORISSANT, Mo. — There is significant radioactive contamination at an elementary school in suburban St. Louis where nuclear weapons were produced during World War II, according to a new report from environmental investigation consultants.

The Boston Chemical Data Corp. confirmed fears of contamination at Jana Elementary School in the Hazelwood School District in Florissant raised by a previous study by the Army Corps of Engineers.

The new report is based on samples taken in August at the school, according at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Boston Chemical did not say who or what commissioned and funded the report.

Among his findings: Radioactive waste more than 22 times the expected level was found in Jana’s kindergarten playground and more than 12 times the expected level was found by the school’s basketball courts.

Jana Elementary School in Florissant, Mo.Google Maps

“For it to be on a schoolyard – it’s the unimaginable,” said Karen Nickel, co-founder of Just Moms STL, a local environmental advocacy group. “There are no safe levels of radioactive material, in my mind, that these children should be exposed to.”

The school is on the Coldwater Creek floodplain, which was contaminated with nuclear waste from weapons production during World War II. The waste was dumped at sites near St. Louis Lambert International Airport, next to the creek that empties into the Missouri River. The Corps has been cleaning the creek for over 20 years.

The Corps report also found contamination in the area, but at much lower levels, and it took no samples within 300 feet of the school. The most recent report included samples taken from Jana’s library, kitchen, classrooms, fields and playgrounds.

Just Moms STL is pushing for an immediate nuclear waste cleanup.

“In 2022, we’re still creating WWII casualties,” said co-founder Dawn Chapman. “Are we really going to let these children be victims?

Levels of the radioactive isotope lead-210, polonium, radium and other toxins were “far higher” than Boston Chemical had expected. Dust samples taken from inside the school were found to be contaminated.

“I was heartbroken,” said Ashley Bernaugh, president of Parent-Teacher Association Jana who has a son at school. “It sounds so cliché, but it takes your breath away.”

Inhaling or ingesting these radioactive materials can cause significant injury, according to the report.

“A major remedial program will be needed to bring school conditions into line with expectations,” the report said.

The new report is expected to be a major topic on Tuesday eveningHazelwood School Board meeting. The district said in a statement that it would consult with its attorneys and experts to determine next steps.

“Safety is absolutely our top priority for our staff and students,” board chair Betsy Rachel said Saturday.

The report’s findings rocked communities near Coldwater Creek, Chapman said. She said many parents at Jana Elementary were “terrified” to send their child to school on Monday, but had no choice because they had to go to work.

Christen Commuso of the Missouri Coalition for the Environment presented the results of the Corps study to the school board in June after obtaining a copy through a Freedom of Information Act request.

“I wouldn’t want my child to go to this school,” she said. “The effect of these toxins is cumulative.”

The Associated Press reported from Florissant, Missouri. NBC News’ Elizabeth Chuck reported from New York.

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