An elementary school outside St. Louis was found to have “unacceptable” levels of radioactive contamination stemming from waste dating back to the creation of the first atomic bomb in the 1940s, and residents fear it may be linked to various cases of illness, disease, and deaths in the area.
According to an independent report from the Boston Chemical Data Corporation, “unacceptable” radioactive levels were found throughout the Jana School in Florissant, Missouri.
“The Jana School, like many homes, institutions and businesses in the area, borders Coldwater Creek. This waterway has been contaminated by leaking radioactive wastes from disposal that began shortly after World War II and is not yet cleaned up,” said Marco Kaltofen, the author of the study.
“The wastes in the creek come from residues of the Manhattan Engineering District Project. Many properties in this area get tested with some regularity,” Kaltofen told CNN. “Unfortunately, when Coldwater Creek floods its banks, some of that radioactive material is deposited on neighboring land, such as the school.”
In a statement Friday the school district said it was aware of the report. “Safety is always our top priority, and we are actively discussing the implications of the findings. The Board of Education will be consulting with attorneys and experts in this area of testing to determine next steps.”
A school board meeting is scheduled for Tuesday night. The PTA says it is working tirelessly to keep the area safe for its children. It’s asking for letters to be written to community leaders and elected officials. The sample messaging reads:
“The radioactive contamination found inside Jana Elementary School and in the outside play area is an unacceptable threat. I am requesting an immediate cleanup of hazardous waste on Jana Elementary School property and building, in its entirety, to ensure the safety of our children, teachers, and school staff.”
In August of this year, 32 soil, dust, and plant samples were taken from the school for the study. Samples were collected from places throughout the school such as the library, the ventilation system, and classroom surfaces.
“The most outstanding result of August 2022 testing at the Jana school was that levels of the radioactive isotope lead-210 found on school grounds were entirely unacceptable,” the report said.
The levels of radioactive lead, known as lead-210, found in the kindergarten playground were “more than 22 times the expected background,” while lead-210 levels on the school’s basketball courts were “more than 12 times the expected background,” the report said.
Lead exposure can affect nearly every system in the body and can damage the brain and nervous system. It can slow growth and development and lead to learning and behavior problems including reduced IQ, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, and hearing and speech problems. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says there is no safe blood lead level in children.
Further, greater exposure to radioactive materials can lead to cancer later in life, according to the CDC. A person can spread radioactive materials, like dust, to other people through their clothing.
“People who are externally contaminated can spread the contamination by touching surfaces, sitting in a chair, or even walking through a house. Contaminants can easily fall from clothing and contaminate other surfaces,” the CDC explained.
History of contamination in area
Jana Elementary School serves just over 400 students in Florissant, Missouri and sits near Coldwater Creek, which was contaminated with uranium processing residues used as part of the Manhattan Project to develop the atomic bomb in the 1940s and 50s, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, a federal public health agency.
The radioactive residues were improperly stored and led to the contamination of Coldwater Creek decades ago. The Jana School is bordered on two sides by the creek and one of its contaminated tributaries.
In a 2019 report from the Agency, local residents alleged numerous illnesses and deaths they believed were connected to the site. However, the agency could not determine if any of those illnesses were definitively caused by exposure to the contaminants.
“Radiological contamination in and around Coldwater Creek, prior to remediation activities, could have increased the risk of some types of cancer in people who played or lived there,” states the report.
The US Army Corps of Engineers initially detected radioactive material near school grounds in 2018, according to the independent report, and confirmed its presence with more testing between 2019 and 2021. But the Army Corps testing only included samples from outside the school, instead of on and inside the school property, the report said.
“Our team will evaluate the Boston Chemical Data Corp. report and methods used to create these results. 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, program manager, US Army Corps of Engineers, St. Louis District Formerly Utilized Sites Remedial Action Program (FUSRAP).
“The Jana Elementary School property does have FUSRAP contamination near the CWC bank that is below ground surface and in a densely wooded area. However, the sample locations in the actual floodplain between the Coldwater Creek (CWC) bank and playground area are not contaminated,” a Army Corp of Engineers statement said.
Early indications from the data are that the FUSRAP contamination is isolated to the Coldwater Creek bank, the statement read.
“The team has been coordinating with the Hazelwood School District regarding the status of sampling on the property,” the statement read. “Any contamination posing a high risk or immediate threat to human health or the environment would be made a priority for remediation.”
CNN’s Carma Hassan, Ashley Davis and Eric Levenson contributed to this report.