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Hawley: Army must explain radioactivity at elementary school; School shutting down, Army denies problem

A sign cautions employees of the potential radiation risks at the Nevada National Security Site, previously called the Nevada Test Site. The area is now maintained by the U.S. Department of Energy. (Jessica Boehm/Cronkite News Service/TNS)
October 19, 2022

Radioactive contaminants are leaking out from a site managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) onto a nearby elementary school in the St. Louis, Missouri area, according to a new report by environmental investigators. The leak is already prompting the school to close down and Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) is calling for answers.

On Monday, the Associated Press reported the environmental survey group Boston Chemical Data (BCD) Corp. found radioactive contaminants near Jana Elementary School in Florissant, a St. Louis suburb. According to the Associated Press, the school is located in a floodplain near a World War II-era nuclear weapons production site.

The BCD findings come from samples taken around the school in August. According to NBC, the BCD report found more than 22 times the expected level of radioactive material on the school’s kindergarten playground and more than 12 times the expected level of radioactive material on the school’s basketball courts.

The BCD report said “a significant remedial program will be required to bring conditions at the school in line with expectations.”

USACE program manager Phil Moser disputed the environmental group’s findings.

“The Boston Chemical Data Corp. report is not consistent with our accepted evaluation techniques and must be thoroughly vetted to ensure accuracy,” Moser told NBC.

Moser also said “any contamination posing a high risk or immediate threat would be made a priority for remediation.” 

USACE has not responded to American Military News requests for comment at this time.

While USACE is disputing the contamination allegations, school officials aren’t taking those same chances. On Tuesday, the New York Post reported the elementary school will close down until any contaminants are cleaned up. Jada Elementary will go to all-virtual learning beginning on Monday.

Now Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) is stepping in with calls for answers about the alleged radioactive contamination. On Tuesday, he tweeted a call for USACE to immediately answer what’s happening with the alleged radioactive contaminaiton.

“A new report indicates St. Louis-area school kids may have been exposed to radioactive material, in an area managed by the Army Corps of Engineers,” Hawley tweeted, along with a letter USACE commanding Lt. Gen. Scott Spellman. “The Corps needs to explain what’s going on and what they’re doing to protect kids. And they need to explain right now.”

This particular area has had a history of concerning nuclear waste leaks.

According to a 2015 report by, the chemical weapons site in question was operated during the 1940s by Mallinckrodt Chemical Works. The U.S. military hired the chemical company to process the uranium that became the fuel for the some of the very first nuclear bombs.

As the company ran out of storage space for radioactive waste it reportedly began dumping excess waste near Coldwater Creek, a relatively sparsely populated area at the time. According to a 1990 article in the New York Times, the toxic waste dumping was carried out in secret with government approval.

Over the years, residents living near Coldwater Creek have noticed an unusually high rate of rare cancers.

By 1989 the U.S. Department of Energy reported it had found radioactive contaminants “in and along” Coldwater Creek and the area has been under USACE supervision.

Ashley Bernaugh, a local parent and president of Jana Elementary’s Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) has suspected the radioactive contamination problems have continued. She told NBC she began to pay closer attention to this potential issue in 2018 when she noticed USACE personnel taking environmental samples near but never inside the elementary school.

For Bernaugh, the BCD contamination report appears to confirm her worst fears.

“You don’t want to be right that your kid’s playground or the school is contaminated,” she told NBC. “Unfortunately, I am right.”