Florissant elementary school and Army Corps of Engineers face backlash for mishandling ‘unacceptably high’ radioactive waste level

FLORISSANT, Mo. – A St. Louis-area elementary school and the Army Corps of Engineers are under fire for their handling of “unacceptably high” levels of radioactive waste detected at the school. 

During the 1940s and 1950s, radioactive waste from World War II weapons production was dumped near Coldwater Creek. Some 70 years later, astonishingly high contamination levels have been found in multiple areas at Jana Elementary, which sits in the floodplain of the creek.

Hazelwood School District’s board told parents Tuesday that Jana Elementary School is switching to virtual instruction on Monday until Thanksgiving break, after which students will be transferred to other area schools. 

The Heartlander reached out to the school to see if students were still currently attending Jana this week despite the troubling findings. A school secretary responded with “I hope you have a nice day,” and hung up. 

According to a report last week by Boston Chemical Data Corp. (BCDC), radioactive lead more than 22 times the expected level was found in the school’s playground, and levels 12 times higher than expected were found by the basketball courts. 

The Army Corps of Engineers has been cleaning up the creek for more than 20 years, and has found contamination in the area before. However, the radioactive lead levels were much lower than found by BCDC, and it didn’t take any samples within 300 feet of the school. 

“The Army Corps’ tests are incomplete and inadequate as no samples were collected from the school buildings themselves, nor were they collected from surface soils immediately surrounding the school buildings,” BCDC’s report said.

BCDC’s report marked the first time any samples had been taken from school grounds, and the report consisted of samples from the school’s kitchen, classrooms, libraries and playgrounds. The report showed radioactive levels were most likely posing an “unacceptably high risk to the children.”

The Army Corps of Engineers, however, seems to not accept the findings of BCDC’s report as accurate – not yet, at least.

“The Boston Chemical Data Corp. report is not consistent with our accepted evaluation techniques and must be thoroughly vetted to ensure accuracy,” said Phil Moser, a Corps program manager overseeing the investigation and cleanup of sites subjected to radioactive waste dumping. “Any contamination posing a high risk or immediate threat would be made a priority for remediation.”

While some parents thanked the school board for taking steps to prevent further harm to their children, other parents expressed anger at the late-coming solution and lack of transparency from the district. 

Parents say the school never notified them of the radioactive waste until Tuesday, and by that point they had already found out about the health hazard via news reports or Facebook posts.  

“I can get a call about a crayon or a pencil, but I can’t get a call [about nuclear waste],” said Kimberly Anderson, whose three grandchildren attend Jana Elementary. 

The school board apologized to parents at the Tuesday meeting, and said it plans to work with legal counsel to ensure the radioactive material is cleaned up.

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