FLORISSANT, Mo. – There is growing controversy and more questions about the safety of Jana Elementary School in the Hazelwood School District. School officials closed the school on Oct. 21 after testing found very high levels of radioactive contamination on campus.
On Wednesday, the Army Corps of Engineers told Hazelwood School Board members that “from a radiological standpoint (Jana Elementary) is safe.”
Colonel Kevin Golinghorst, commander of the Corps of Engineers’ St. Louis District, told school district leaders that testing, which the corps performed recently, found no radioactive contamination beyond what occurs naturally in the environment.
Golinghorst said they took nearly 1,000 samples and measurements throughout the school and found no concerning levels of radioactive contamination.
Corps officials said they would feel safe sending their kids to Jana Elementary.
That stands in stark contrast to a recent report from the Boston Chemical Data Corp. That report concluded radioactive contamination was at the school at much higher levels than were expected. In one case, we’re told contamination was 22 times above normal levels.
Jana is located next to Coldwater Creek, which was contaminated by nuclear waste from weapons produced during the Manhattan Project in the midst of World War II.
The Army Corps of Engineers has been cleaning up the creek for more than 20 years.
But concerns about radioactive contamination at Jana Elementary increased after Coldwater Creek flooded in July.
With approval from the Hazelwood School District, Boston Chemical Data Corp. took samples in August from Jana’s library, kitchen, classrooms, fields, and playgrounds.
Those samples revealed the elevated contamination levels.
Marco Keltofen, who performed the sampling and wrote the Boston Chemical Data report, believes the Corps of Engineers’ information is accurate when it comes to what they tested for. However, Keltofen said his group tested for many more radioactive isotopes than the corps did and that was where the elevated radioactive contamination was discovered.
Members of the Hazelwood School Board asked the corps tough questions about how its report could come to such a different conclusion than the other one. Board members were also concerned because the corps did not bring any numerical data with them to back up their findings.
The Corps of Engineers told the board it would produce that data at a later time. Corps officials also told board members that while they could not comment on the work of the Boston Chemical Data Corp., the Army Corps’ investigation was thorough.
Corps officials said there is contamination on the banks of Coldwater Creek near Jana Elementary, but there is no contamination at the school.
Concerned parents, including Jana PTA President Ashley Bernaugh, accused the Corps of Engineers of a lack of transparency and of not telling the whole story. Bernaugh and others voiced concerns during the meeting and then confronted the Corps of Engineers outside Hazelwood School District headquarters after the meeting, and demanded the corps do more to investigate the situation at Jana.
The corps is set to appear at a Hazelwood School Board meeting next Tuesday and then a public meeting the next day.
Meanwhile, Jana Elementary students are continuing to do virtual learning and are set to be transferred to other schools within the Hazelwood School District in January.
The Army Corps expects to have a final report to Hazelwood School District leaders by the end of December. It will make that report public in January.
At this point, there is no timetable for reopening Jana Elementary School.