Radioactive waste found in Missouri elementary school

FLORISSANT, Mo. (AP) — 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 from the school, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Boston Chemical did not say who or what commissioned and funded the report.

“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.”

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.

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.

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 at the Hazelwood School Board meeting on Tuesday. 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.

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.”

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