It’s unclear how long the cleaning process will take, what it will involve, or who will pay for it. A district spokeswoman declined to comment beyond a written statement outlining the plan to close the school and relocate the 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 bombs made in St. Louis ended up in the waterway near Lambert Airport, where the waste was stored. The creek travels 19 miles (30 kilometers) before emptying into the Missouri River.
The result was an environmental nightmare. For decades, children who lived near the creek hunted crayfish and waded through the water on hot summer days, unaware of the poison they were playing in.
A 2019 federal report determined that people exposed to Coldwater Creek from the 1960s through the 1990s may be at increased risk for bone cancer, lung cancer, and leukemia. Environmentalists and locals have cited several cases of extremely rare cancers that have sickened and killed people.
The Environmental Protection Agency set up a Superfund site in 1989, and the government is spending millions to clean up the damage, though the project isn’t expected to end until 2038.
In this context, it’s no wonder Jana Elementary’s parents were alarmed by the October 10 report from Boston Chemical Data Corp., funded by two law firms to seek compensation for illnesses and deaths. He found levels of the radioactive isotope lead-210 that were 22 times the level expected on the kindergarten playground. He also found high levels of polonium, radium and other materials inside the school.
Kimberly Anderson told the board at a packed meeting Tuesday that she is raising three grandchildren who attend Jana Elementary. She worried about the damage to health that might have already happened.
“It can have long-term effects on children,” Anderson said, adding that the district should provide a medical expert who can offer “insight into what to look for and what to get my children tested.” “.
For starters, Anderson said she plans to have her grandchildren’s blood tested.
Ashley Bernaugh is president of the PTA, lives nearby, and has a dating son. She called the results of the study “terrifying”. She’s done enough research to know that any health ramifications may be years or decades away, not immediate.
“But lab testing would be cautious, particularly given the levels of radioactivity and lead found,” Bernaugh said.
The Army Corps of Engineers earlier discovered contamination in nearby woods. But since none were found in the area between the woods and the school, the agency did not test the building or the land.
Phillip Moser, manager of the Corps’ formerly used sites corrective action program in St. Louis, expressed concern about the Boston Chemical report, calling it “incomplete and inconsistent with approved processes required to perform an assessment on one of our sites. ”
Still, that was enough to spur local, state and federal lawmakers to call for immediate action.
US Representative Cori Bush, Democrat of St. Louis, said the federal government “is responsible for this waste” and must clean it up.
U.S. Senator Josh Hawley, a Republican, wrote to President Joe Biden on Wednesday, asking him to declare a federal emergency to expedite corrective action. If the cleanup isn’t feasible, Hawley said the government should pay for a new building.
“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.
The plight of the Jana Elementary children has hit others hard who believe their own lives have been disrupted by the contamination at Coldwater Creek.
Christen Commuso works for the Missouri Coalition for the Environment and grew up near the creek. She told the council that she had had several health problems, including thyroid cancer in her early thirties.
“I stand before you as a living testimony to what this waste can do,” Commuso said.