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As Jana Elementary students begin virtual learning, environmentalists call for better cleanup of radioactive waste

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Brian Munoz
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St. Louis Public Radio
Jana Elementary School on Thursday in Florissant. Environmental investigation consultants have found significant radioactive contamination at the school, which sits in the flood plain of Coldwater Creek — now contaminated by nuclear waste from weapons production during World War II.

The latest study on radioactive contamination from World War II-era nuclear waste has raised concerns for environmentalists and parents of Jana Elementary students.

Boston Chemical Data Corp. found “unacceptable amounts” of contamination at Jana Elementary in Florissant. The school district was aware of this information but failed to alert parents until the report was released by the school’s Parent Teacher Association on Oct. 17.

On Monday, Jana Elementary students began virtual learning. It’s a temporary solution to protect students and educators from harm that radioactive waste can cause.

“I talked to one parent whose daughter has special needs, and she was still sending her kid to school all of last week, even though she knew about the contamination because her child doesn't do well at all during virtual school,” St. Louis Public Radio education reporter Kate Grumke said on St. Louis on the Air. “The Parent Teacher Association [at Jana Elementary] is really pushing to keep the kids together.”

Before the record-breaking flash floods in July, representatives from the Missouri Coalition for the Environment had been going door-to-door to alert citizens who reside in the floodplain about the potential dangers they face.

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Miya Norfleet
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St. Louis Public Radio
Jared Opsal is the executive director of the Missouri Coalition for the Environment. Christen Commusso is a community outreach specialist.

“We hit over 1,000 homes this last summer and just hand-delivered this information. And unfortunately, a lot of the people living there had no idea [about radioactive waste concerns]," said Christen Commusso, the organization’s community outreach specialist. “There's this huge disconnect between what [the Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency] are doing; their outreach, their communication, and unfortunately, it leaves community organizations like ours to step in and bridge this gap.”

Radioactive contamination from Coldwater Creek is not a new issue. For decades, environmental activists have demanded accountability and action from the Army Corps of Engineers.

As Jana Elementary students begin virtual learning, environmentalists call for better cleanup of radioactive waste

“There aren’t even signs along this creek to let people know that this waste is there,” explained Jared Opsal, the executive director of the Missouri Coalition for the Environment. “Even if we're informing parents, [with] kids being kids — I think of when I was a kid, I'd go play in the creek a lot of times. Kids are still doing that today. I guarantee it, because they don't know.”

On a bigger scale, the coalition is calling for a more thorough cleanup process. “[The area] is not getting back to where the environment really should be prior to this waste being there,” Opsal said.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is produced by Miya Norfleet, Emily Woodbury, Danny Wicentowski and Alex Heuer. Avery Rogers is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Miya is a producer for "St. Louis on the Air."

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