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Consultant backs up finding of no radioactive contamination at Jana Elementary

Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
Jana Elementary School in Florissant on Oct. 20. Environmental investigation consultants have found significant radioactive contamination at the school, which sits in the flood plain of Coldwater Creek. But consultants hired by the school district agree with a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers conclusion that there is no risk.

Members of the Hazelwood School District Board of Education are unsure how to proceed after hearing more details regarding testing for radioactive contamination at Jana Elementary School in Florissant.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Tuesday presented the board with more information about its testing of the school.

The authors of a private study that concludes there are dangerous levels of contamination at the school also addressed the board for the first time.

But consultants hired by the school board said they agree with the Army Corps of Engineers’ conclusion that there is no danger at the school.

Jana Elementary, which is now closed, sits in the floodplain of Coldwater Creek. The Army Corps of Engineers is planning a cleanup of radioactive contamination in the creek from a plant that processed uranium for the country’s atomic weapons program in the 1940s and '50s.

A private report that has raised concern about the school and led to its closure was conducted by Boston Chemical. Company owner Marco Kaltofen told the board his firm’s analysis differed from the Army Corps of Engineers evaluation because of the use of X-ray technology to analyze soil samples and because of a focus on a dangerous radioactive compound called lead 210.

“The U.S. EPA and the Department of Energy have both said that lead 210 is one of the most important sources of risk. Lead 210 was in fact the radioisotope found in the greatest quantity when we did our work,” Kaltofen said.

In reaction to the Boston Chemical report, the Army Corps conducted additional testing at the school but is sticking with its original conclusion that there are no levels of radioactive contamination beyond what would occur naturally.

“We found on the property no new areas requiring remediation. The contaminated areas per our record are isolated to the creek bank,” Army Corps of Engineers program manager Phil Moser told the school board.

That is the same conclusion reached by the St. Charles-based consultant hired by the school board.

“Jana Elementary is as safe as any other school. If we go to any other school and we do dust wipes and we do soil samples, we’re going to find exactly the same thing,” Glen Grissom of SCI Engineering told the board.

School board members expressed frustration at the challenge of assessing such contradictory reports. A public forum regarding the Jana Elementary School research is scheduled for Thursday.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misattributed a comment by Boston Chemical owner Marco Kaltofen.

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