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A Little Toxic Waste In The Schoolyard
Unacceptable Levels of Radioactive Waste Discovered At A Missouri Elementary School
Here we go, again. Geez. How many times I’m I going to have to write about toxic, terrible waste showing up in schoolyards? (Remember this post from last August?)
What’s happening in Missouri is truly terrifying, and my heart goes out to all the parents, caretakers, teachers, school administrators and neighbors of the school, who are all dealing with this mess.
Here’s what we know so far…
Unacceptably high levels of radioactive waste were detected at a Missouri elementary school just outside St. Louis, according to a new report.
Samples taken in August at Jana Elementary School in Florissant, Missouri, found “far in excess of the natural background” of radioactive isotope lead-210, polonium, radium and other toxins.
Boston Chemical Data Corp. studied soil, dust and plant samples from the school’s library, kitchen, HVAC system, classrooms, fields and playgrounds.
"Evidence from the community-based testing ... demonstrates that radiological contamination exists at unacceptable levels at the Jana School property," the report said in its conclusion.
These findings match those from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which first detected radioactive contaminants near the school in 2018 and again in 2019, 2020 and 2021, the report said.
The Army Corps did not test more than six feet below the ground, according to the new report, so the true depth of radioactive contamination on the Jana site is still unknown.
Where did the contamination come from?
The school unfortunately sits in a flood plain of a tributary contaminated by World War II nuclear bomb manufacturing. Remember the Manhattan Project? A secret U.S. military project that began in 1942 to produce the first nuclear weapon.
Mallinckrodt Chemical Works located in downtown St. Louis was contracted to purify uranium as part of the project. The refining process generated thousands of barrels of toxic waste, which sat for decades and eventually found its way into the creek bed and to neighboring homes and properties.
“Wastes from this process containing low-level radioactive byproducts were moved and stored at two sites near Coldwater Creek, the St. Louis Airport Site on McDonnell Boulevard and the Hazelwood Interim Storage Site on Latty Avenue,” according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). “Improper handling, transport, and storage of these wastes led to contamination of Coldwater Creek and other nearby areas.”
Coldwater Creek is the 19-mile tributary of the Missouri River that was deemed a Superfund site back in 1989. Remediation efforts aren't expected to be complete until 2038.
For years, local residents noticed what seemed like an unusual concentration of cancers, other illnesses, and birth defects in the area. You can read more about it in this article, “The Poisoned Children of Coldwater Creek.”
In a report released in June 2018, the ATSDR stated that in fact exposure to radiological contaminants polluting the creek “could increase the risk of developing bone or lung cancer, leukemia or (to a lesser extent) skin or breast cancer.”
In 2019, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a final report, confirming a link between cancer clusters and the polluted creek.
The school issued a statement last week.
At an October 18 school board meeting, a board representative read a statement from the board and school leaders outlining plans to send Jana Elementary School students to virtual classes until they, and staff, are redistricted to other buildings.
While I’m glad the school board took action to get kids out of this hazardous environment, these children should never have been exposed to this toxic environment in the first place.
This school needs remediation and immediate cleanup of all hazardous waste.
Children deserve a safe, healthy place to learn and play. Period. No parent should have to worry about sending a child to school on top of radioactive waste.
The pollution happened more than 80 years ago, but innocent children and families are still paying the price.
Thank you to the advocates
As usual, local moms and nonprofits are the ones who have helped push this issue into the spotlight to make change, fight for testing and more.
Check out this amazing Advocacy Tool Kit created by the Jana Parent Teacher Association (PTA).
Check out Missouri Coalition for the Environment (MCE), a nonprofit working to ensure Missourians have clean air, safe water, sustainable food, and protected lands.
Let’s talk more in the comments below. Sound off on your thoughts about radioactive waste in schools.