A significant amount of radioactive contamination was discovered at an elementary school in suburban St. Louis, near where nuclear weapons were produced during World War II, according to a report by environmental investigation consultants.
The report was issued by the environmental investigation firm Boston Chemical Data Corp. last week and confirmed fears of contamination at Jana Elementary School in Florissant that had been raised by a 2018 study by the Army Corps of Engineers.
“I was heartbroken,” Ashley Bernaugh, a parent at the school, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch after reading the report. “It sounds so cliché, but it takes your breath from you.”
The contamination was at 22 times the expected amount and many times above the amount allowed by federal Superfund regulation, according to the report. Ingesting or inhaling these radioactive materials could cause significant injury.
The 2018 Army Corps of Engineers study found significantly less contamination than the recent report did, though the Corps had not taken samples within 300 feet of the school or inside it.
The report by Boston Chemical was based on samples of soil, dust and plant materials taken from inside and around the elementary school, including the library, kitchen, classrooms and playground. It found the radioactive isotope lead-210, polonium, radium and other toxins were far in excess of what the firm expected.
Jana Elementary School is part of Hazelwood School District and sits in the floodplain of Coldwater Creek, which was contaminated by radioactive waste from the production of nuclear weapons during World War II. The contamination has been traced back to Mallinckrodt Chemical Works, which is responsible for the production of uranium for the Manhattan Project’s atomic bombs in the 1940s and ’50s.
Boston Chemical’s report said a “significant remedial program” would be required to bring the conditions at the school in line with acceptable levels. However, unless Coldwater Creek itself is remediated, flooding could recontaminate school grounds.
The report will be addressed during a Hazelwood School Board meeting Tuesday, board president Betsy Rachel told the Post-Dispatch.
“Safety is absolutely our top priority for our staff and students,” Rachel said Saturday.