After a study by law firms in a class action lawsuit, a Missouri school board decided Tuesday that a grade school located near a contaminated stream would be closed down.
According to a Boston Chemical Data Corp report, contamination was found in Jana Elementary School’s classrooms, playground, and other areas in Florissant, Missouri. This follows a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers report, which was made public last week by Boston Chemical Data Corp. It found contamination from World War II-era nukes production in a wooded area close to Coldwater Creek.
In closed session, Tuesday’s vote by the Hazelwood Board of Education was to close the school until it is cleaned up. Virtual learning will begin Monday, and it is expected that students can transfer to other schools. This tentatively occurs on Nov. 28. It is not known when Jana Elementary will reopen.
In a statement following the closed meeting, the school board stated that remediation was necessary, but admitted that “this is disrupting our students’ education” and the school climate.
Even though a Corps official was questioning the Boston Chemical study, the Corps made the decision. Phillip Moser, the program manager for the Corps’ Formerly Utilized Sites Remedial Action Program, in St. Louis, stated that the agency’s assessments found no contamination between the wooded area and the school or the playground. The Boston Chemical report was criticized by Moser as “incomplete” and not in line with approved processes for evaluating one of the sites.
However, many politicians called for the school’s immediate closure.
This new report is concerning for parents because the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry has stated that Coldwater Creek-related exposures from the 1960s through the 1990s could increase the risk of developing bone cancer, lung cancer, and leukemia.
William Johnson, the father to a student at the school, and three other alumni stated that he did not understand why the school was not closing.
It was not immediately clear whether students would continue to attend school for the remainder of the week. Jordyn Elston, a district spokesperson, said that she did not have any information about the rest of the week.
Many of the speakers welcomed the closing of the school but wondered why no communication was made by the school district. Many people said that they first heard about the problem via Facebook or the news.
Patrice Strickland said, “I’m happy you have a plan now,” and she has two children at the school. “I’m so happy you’re considering our babies now. Just communicate with us.”
Coldwater Creek was contaminated by nuclear waste from World War II weapon production under the Manhattan Project. Mallinckrodt Chemical Co. produced uranium ore from St. Louis between 1942 and 1957. They then shipped the waste to a location near Lambert Airport where it was deposited in the 19-mile-long Missouri River waterway.
In 1989, the Environmental Protection Agency declared the creek a Superfund Site. The remediation effort, which involves digging up contaminated soil and transporting it by covered railcar to a waste management facility located in Idaho, is not expected to be completed until 2038.
Dawn Chapman is co-founder of Just Moms STL, an environmental group that has advocated for Coldwater Creek cleanup. She acknowledged the difficulties in connecting illness to contamination. Chapman stated that the new report, funded by two law firms to seek compensation for illness and death allegedly due to the creek contamination, has caused concern for parents, teachers, and staff.
Chapman stated, “Everybody is just terrified.”
According to the Boston Chemical study, radioactive Isotope Lead-210 was found at 22 times the level expected in the kindergarten playground. The school also had high levels of radium, polonium, and other materials.
Mahadevappa Mahesh (a chief physicist at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore) called the data “bothersome”, but stated that he needs more information to make a firm conclusion about potential health effects.
Mahesh, a radiology professor, said that the psychological impact of radiation is more severe than any physical injury. “Now that parents and students know this information, it can have a lot of psychological impacts — worrying over radiation — more than actual radiation injury.
Christen Commuso, Missouri Coalition for the Environment, stated that the school is located in a neighborhood surrounded by homes. It was established in the 1970s. Although Coldwater Creek is multiracial, approximately 80% of the 400 Jana Elementary School students are Black.
Communist stated, “You’re talking to children throughout the decades who were exposed to this.
“Ashley Bernaugh hopes her son will return to school one day. Bronaugh is the president of Jana Elementary School’s parent-teacher association.
Bronaugh stated, “We love Jana Elementary.” “I’ll fight for it.”