Medical guidance sought after contamination closes school

Oct 19, 2022, 2:10 PM | Updated: 3:59 pm
"Virtual school is not the answer," said mother Cheryl Lane, right, who leaves a Hazelwood School B...

"Virtual school is not the answer," said mother Cheryl Lane, right, who leaves a Hazelwood School Board meeting with her two sons, Aaron, 9, left, and Andrew, 7, Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2022, at the Hazelwood School District Learning Center in Florissant, Mo. The board announced elementary students will switch to virtual learning after radioactive waste was found at Jana Elementary School. "My kids have been virtual since the start of the school year and they are not learning," said Lane. (Laurie Skrivan/St. Louis Post-Dispatch via AP)

(Laurie Skrivan/St. Louis Post-Dispatch via AP)

FLORISSANT, Mo. (AP) — Some parents of children at Jana Elementary School in suburban St. Louis say they’ll seek medical testing and guidance from doctors about what to do next, after a privately-funded environmental study found radioactive contamination inside the school and on the playground.

The Hazelwood Board of Education on Tuesday announced plans to close the grade school in Florissant, Missouri, indefinitely and clean it. The roughly 400 students — 80% of whom are Black — will do virtual learning for now, then be sent to some of the district’s 19 other elementary schools starting Nov. 28.

It’s unclear how long the cleanup process will take, what it will involve or who will pay for it. A district spokeswoman declined comment beyond a written statement that broadly outlined the plan to close the school and relocate children.

Coldwater Creek runs directly behind Jana Elementary, which has educated thousands of children since it opened 50 years ago. The creek was contaminated in the 1940s and 1950s when waste from atomic bomb material manufactured in St. Louis got into the waterway near Lambert Airport, where the waste was stored. The creek runs 19 miles (30 kilometers) before spilling into the Missouri River.

The result was an environmental nightmare. For decades, children who lived near the creek hunted for crawdads and splashed in the water on hot summer days, unaware of the poison they were playing in.

A 2019 federal report determined that those exposed to Coldwater Creek from the 1960s to the 1990s may have an increased risk of bone cancer, lung cancer and leukemia. Environmentalists and area residents have cited several instances of extremely rare cancers that have sickened and killed people.

The Environmental Protection Agency established a Superfund site in 1989, and the government is spending millions to clean up the mess, though the project isn’t expected to end until 2038.

Amidst that backdrop, it’s no wonder that Jana Elementary parents were alarmed by the Oct. 10 report from Boston Chemical Data Corp., funded by two law firms suing to seek compensation for illnesses and deaths. It found levels of radioactive isotope lead-210 that were 22 times the expected level on the kindergarten playground. It also found high levels of polonium, radium and other material inside the school.

Kimberly Anderson told the board during a packed meeting on Tuesday that she is raising three grandchildren who attend Jana Elementary. She worried about the health damage that might already have occurred.

Anderson said the district should provide a medical expert who can offer “insight as to what I need to be looking for and what I need to have tested for my children.”

To start with, Anderson said she plans to have the blood of her grandchildren tested.

Ashley Bernaugh is president of the PTA, lives nearby and has a son who attends. She called the findings of the study “terrifying.”

She said “lab testing would be prudent especially because of the levels of radioactivity and lead found.”

The Army Corps of Engineers earlier found contamination in the woods nearby. But since none was found in the area between the woods and the school, the agency didn’t test the building or the grounds.

Phillip Moser, program manager of the Corps’ Formerly Utilized Sites Remedial Action Program in St. Louis, expressed concerns about the Boston Chemical report, calling it “incomplete and not consistent with the approved processes required to do an evaluation at one of our sites.”

Still, it was enough to prompt local, state and federal lawmakers to call for immediate action.

U.S Rep. Cori Bush, a St. Louis Democrat, said the federal government “is responsible for this waste” and needs to clean it up.

U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley, a Republican, wrote to President Joe Biden on Wednesday, asking that he declare a federal emergency to expedite remediation. If cleanup is not feasible, Hawley said the government should pay for a new building.

“The parents, children and residents of this area have waited years for the federal government to complete its cleanup,” Hawley wrote. “Now their school is contaminated. They deserve immediate relief.”

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Mark Hager, left, positions a camera with the help of Anthony Lucia, right, as captain Al Cottone w...
Associated Press

Could trawler cams help save world’s dwindling fish stocks?

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — For years, Mark Hager’s job as an observer aboard New England fishing boats made him a marked man, seen as a meddling cop on the ocean, counting and scrutinizing every cod, haddock and flounder to help set crucial quotas. On one particularly perilous voyage, he was met on the dock at […]
7 hours ago
FILE - Juul products are displayed at a smoke shop in New York, on Dec. 20, 2018. Embattled vaping ...
Associated Press

Juul reaches settlements covering more than 5,000 cases

Juul Labs has reached settlements covering more than 5,000 cases brought by about 10,000 plaintiffs related to its vaping products. Financial terms of the settlement were not disclosed, but Juul said that it has secured an equity investment to fund it. Buffeted by lawsuits, Juul announced hundreds of layoffs last month and bankruptcy appeared increasingly […]
7 hours ago
Associated Press

Editorial Roundup: United States

Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad: Dec. 5 The Washington Post on microchips, the U.S. and the future When President Biden visits a microchip factory under construction in Arizona, it might look like a political victory lap: The factory will bring $12 billion and thousands of jobs to an important swing […]
7 hours ago
FILE - Local residents gather near a generator to charge their mobile devices in an area controlled...
Associated Press

Donors race to get generators, other aid to hard-hit Ukraine

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — When Russian forces launched a military campaign against infrastructure in Ukraine nearly two months ago, they opened a front that carried the war along power lines, water mains and heating systems to homes, schools, offices and churches. The government in Kyiv and the Western countries that have backed it with billions […]
7 hours ago
Associated Press

Co-buying a house: How platonic partners make it work

Seven years ago, Phil Levin and his girlfriend, Kristen Berman, pondered a common question: Should we move in together? Levin assumed they’d take a predictable path and find a more affordable apartment outside of pricey San Francisco. But Berman, a behavioral scientist, shared her reservations about leaving their friend network – and some facts to […]
7 hours ago
FILE -  Visitors passing an advertisement for the video game 'Call of Duty' at the Gamescom fair fo...
Associated Press

Microsoft strikes 10-year deal with Nintendo on Call of Duty

LONDON (AP) — Microsoft said Wednesday that it struck a deal to make the hit video game Call of Duty available on Nintendo for 10 years when its $69 billion purchase of game maker Activision Blizzard goes through — an apparent attempt to fend off objections from rival Sony. The blockbuster merger is facing close […]
7 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

(Desert Institute for Spine Care photo)...

Why DISC is world renowned for back and neck pain treatments

Fifty percent of Americans and 90% of people at least 50 years old have some level of degenerative disc disease.
(Photo via MLB's Arizona Fall League / Twitter)...
Arizona Fall League

Top prospects to watch at this year’s Arizona Fall League

One of the most exciting elements of the MLB offseason is the Arizona Fall League, which began its 30th season Monday.
Children’s Cancer Network

Children’s Cancer Network celebrates cancer-fighting superheroes, raises funds during September’s Childhood Cancer Awareness Month

Jace Hyduchak was like most other kids in his kindergarten class: He loved to play basketball, dress up like his favorite superheroes and jump as high as his pint-sized body would take him on his backyard trampoline.
Medical guidance sought after contamination closes school