By Michael Wang
A school in Florissant, Missouri, recently found out that they've been in the path of potentially deadly and life-threatening radioactive poisoning. Jana Elementary School, home to over 400 students and nearly 100 teachers and staff members, has been exposed to highly dangerous radioactive chemicals a little over 400 feet from the premises. These young students and staff members have been unknowingly at high risk of exposure, and many people are reevaluating the safety of Jana Elementary and the Army’s role in poisoning the area.

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What Was the Manhattan Project, and How Is It Connected to Florissant?

Back in the 1940s, the United States was engaged in World War II. During the war, the U.S. government was working to develop a functional atomic weapon, and the project had to be executed under wraps because an atomic weapon isn’t something you just want everyone to know about (especially not the Germans). Therefore, the government gave this endeavor a code name: the Manhattan Project. Many scientists around the world came together to develop the world’s first nuclear bomb. These efforts were in response to the fear that “German scientists had been working on a weapon using nuclear technology since the 1930s – and that Adolf Hitler was prepared to use it.” Robert Oppenheimer, the leading physicist on this project, was in charge of the testing and development of the nuclear bomb. After much construction and development, testing began in a remote desert near Alamogordo, New Mexico. After its usage on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the U.S. government started to dump the weapon’s radioactive waste in Coldwater Creek, Florissant, close Jana Elementary School, leaving the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to clean up the mess. Now, many decades later, the effects of the Coldwater Creek radioactive waste are starting to impact the neighboring elementary school, putting hundreds of innocent lives at risk. Despite plans to get the mess cleaned up, little has been done.

The Effects of Radioactive Contamination

Exposure to radioactive contamination can have serious and lasting effects on the body, especially for those exposed at a young age:
  • Exposure can lead to skin burns and radiation syndrome (also referred to as radiation sickness).
  • It can also result in cancer and cardiovascular disease.
  • For people who are pregnant, it can cause Prenatal Radiation Exposure, which occurs when the abdomen is exposed to radiation outside of one’s body.
  • There’s an increased risk of fetal miscarriage if a pregnant person is exposed to high levels of radioactive contamination.
  • Contamination can cause mental health issues stemming from emotional and psychological distress.

What’s Happening at Jana Elementary?

The alleged neglect from the government and the military to clean up the radioactive contamination in the creek has caused the concentration of thorium, “radioactive material linked to increased risk of lung, pancreatic, and bone cancer,” to gradually increase throughout the area. This pressing situation wasn't brought to the attention of the families until what many feel was way too late, and parents are left wondering how long their children have been exposed to this radioactive chemical. What's more concerning for the families of these children is that after Boston Chemical, the company in charge of testing the school and surrounding area, tested the inside of the school in Florissant, Missouri, they revealed that the “playground, library, kitchen, classrooms, and ventilation system had an excess amount of lead, radium, thorium, and other toxins.” When it was time for the Army Corps to fulfill their cleaning duties of this radioactive contamination, they unknowingly “increased the amount of thorium they were allowed to leave behind.” This caused the effects to slowly make their way into the Florissant school. Multiple screenings were performed to find out the severity of this situation, but not even these were sufficient. The Boston Chemical Report found “some shortcomings within the Army’s testing….Despite knowing there were dozens of highly radioactive sites just 300 feet away from the school, the Army didn’t bother testing the school buildings.” Parents and community members say this is unacceptable.

What We Know So Far

Many parents have complained about the exposure, and one parent asked, “Since Jana Elementary is a public school, why have details of sampling not already been released to the public?” The Army did not respond to this question but instead asked the distressed parent to file a Freedom of Information Act request. So, parents and the Missouri Coalition for the Environment filed several Freedom of Information Act requests so that they could see the results of the contamination screenings. When the information was returned, the parent was left with a map she could not comprehend or draw any conclusions from, only making the situation more frustrating for the entire community. The military did not make any efforts to clean up this mess in Florissant. The Corps had “no mandate to clean up lead, which Boston Chemical found to be at rates 22 times the expected amount in the kindergarten play area.” Many people are now left scared and concerned for their health, as exposure to these dangerous chemicals can have long-term, life-threatening effects if not acted upon. After extensive evaluation, families at this little Florissant elementary school are left helpless and wondering how much they’ve been affected. It’s everyone’s hope that the contamination gets cleaned up soon and that the children, parents, teachers, and the entire community can go on living their lives without any more risk of toxic exposure.

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Image: Bill Greenblatt/UPI




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