By Bob Mayberry
The US Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) returned yet again to a Missouri elementary school in November to test for radioactivity on the playgrounds and in the classrooms. In 2018 and 2019, the Corps “identified an area of low-level radioactive contamination” in a heavily wooded area on the edge of the Jane Elementary School property in northern St. Louis. The school serves mostly Black students and sits in the flood plain of Coldwater Creek, contaminated during the 1940s and 1950s when waste from uranium processing for nuclear weapons was dumped nearby. For twenty-plus years, the Corps has been cleaning up the creek and testing for radioactive contamination in the area, but never within 300 feet of the school.
The 2018 tests, revealing low-level contamination nearby, prompted parents to request tests inside school buildings. The Corps declined. Community pressure finally compelled school officials to order third-party testing. According to a report released in October, the Boston Chemical Data Corp. discovered 22 times the expected levels of radioactive isotopes on the playground and more than 12 times expected levels in the gymnasium, resulting in the school’s shutdown in late October. The company found radioactive lead-210, thorium-230, polonium-210, and radium-226 “far in excess” of what the analysts expected.
Corps program manager Phil Moser disagreed with the Boston Chemical findings, claiming the report was not consistent with “accepted evaluation techniques,” but promised the agency would reevaluate Boston Chemical’s report and methods. At the urging of local lawmakers, the Corps has agreed to conduct new tests at Jane Elementary School.