US school closes for rest of year as radioactive material found

The school is close in proximity to a plant which synthesised weapons-grade uranium for the US Department of Energy from 1954 until 2001.

 

Victoria Gagliardo-Silver
New York
@victoriaxsilver
Thursday 16 May 2019 21:23
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Radioactive material at the laboratories of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Seibersdorf, near Vienna
Radioactive material at the laboratories of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Seibersdorf, near Vienna

A US middle school is to close for the rest of the school year after radioactive chemicals were discovered to have contaminated the campus.

The school is close in proximity to The Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant in Ohio which synthesised weapons-grade uranium for the US Department of Energy from 1954 until 2001.

Now, 18 years after the plant ceased operations, Zahns Corner Middle School in Piketon, Ohio, has been forced to close after an air monitor detected enriched uranium and neptunium-237 in the area.

In a letter from the school board posted on the school district website, the president of the Board of Education Brandon Woolridge writes: “The Scioto Valley Local School District was notified that enriched uranium was detected inside the Zahns Corner Middle School building and that Neptunium 237 was detected in a US Department of Energy air monitor located adjacent to the Zahns Corner Middle School.”

“As a result of this information, the SVLSD Board of Education has made the decision to close the Zahns Corner Middle School until the source, extent, level of contamination, and potential impacts to public health and the environment can be determined.”

Enriched uranium and neptunium 237 are “contaminants of concern” as they potentially could cause cancer, the CDC reports: “Your chance of getting cancer from uranium is greater if you are exposed to enriched uranium.”

Local councilwoman, Jennifer Chandler, spoke to CNN about her concerns regarding five children who had been diagnosed with cancer in the district, three of whom unfortunately passed.

“How is this caused? Is this a genetic cancer? Is this an environmental cancer? I’m not a medical professional.” She continued, “This isn’t a game, you know. These are people’s lives.”

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Decommissioning and decontamination is underway at the former nuclear plant.

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