Corps to conduct further testing at contaminated school

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will conduct new tests at a Missouri elementary school to learn more about the level of radioactive contamination at the school and on its playground, U.S. Rep. Cori Bush said Thursday.

Bush was among several local, state and federal lawmakers who called on the federal government to take immediate action to clean up Jana Elementary School in Florissant, Missouri, after private testing revealed high levels of contamination.

“We applied the pressure,” Bush said. “We will continue to do so.”

Corps spokesman JP Rebello said testing will begin Monday. He did not disclose further details, but Bush, a Democrat from St. Louisa, said it could be several months before testing is complete and results are known.

Jana Elementary School is located near Coldwater Creek, a 19-mile waterway contaminated decades ago by Manhattan Project nuclear waste. A 2019 federal report found that those exposed to the creek from the 1960s to the 1990s may have an increased risk of bone cancer, lung cancer and leukemia. Environmentalists and residents of the area have cited several cases of extremely rare cancers that have sickened and killed people.

The Corps of Engineers found contamination in a wooded area near the school, but did not test the school or its grounds beforehand. This summer, attorneys involved in a class-action lawsuit representing local residents seeking compensation for illnesses and deaths received permission from the Hazelwood School District to conduct the testing.

In a report published earlier this month by Boston Chemical Data Corp. reported a level of the radioactive isotope lead-210 that was 22 times higher than the expected level on the kindergarten playground. He also discovered high levels of polonium, radium and other materials in the school.

Concerned parents gathered at the school board meeting Tuesday night when the cleanup was announced. About 400 students — 80% of whom are black — will be learning virtually for now, and starting Nov. 28 will be sent to some of the district’s 19 other elementary schools.

It’s unclear exactly what the cleanup will involve, how long it will take, and who will pay for it. A spokeswoman for the district declined comment.

Coldwater Creek was contaminated in the 1940s and 1950s when atomic bomb waste material was produced in St. Louis entered a waterway near Lambert Airport, where the waste was stored. The result was an environmental nightmare that led to the Superfund declaration in 1989.

The site near the airport has been mostly cleaned up, but remediation of the creek itself won’t be completed for another 16 years, Corps officials said.

U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley, a Republican, wrote to President Joe Biden on Wednesday, asking him to declare a federal emergency to speed up the recovery. If cleanup isn’t feasible, Hawley said the government should pay for a new building.

Bush agreed that the federal government should bear the cost of making things right.

“For years, I have stood with members of the community asking the Department of Energy and the Army to address the Coldwater Creek situation,” Bush said. “These agencies are responsible for the waste. They need to clean it up immediately. There is no excuse.”

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