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Hazelwood School District pays for testing for radioactive contaminants at additional sites in the district

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers confirmed to 5 On Your Side, their agency was never asked to test additional spaces.

FLORISSANT, Mo. — More testing is being done within the Hazelwood School District looking for radioactive contaminants.

This is after conflicting reports about the presence of radioactive contamination at Jana Elementary in Florissant.

Under the Formerly Utilized Sites Remedial Action Program (FUSRAP), the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) is required to clean up contaminated areas.

This year, the agency confirmed there was low-level radioactive contaminants on the banks of Coldwater Creek on the edge of Jana's property boundary.

The agency said there was low level of concern and Jana was safe.

This contradicted another report from Boston Chemical Data Corporation showing high levels of contamination in and around the school.

The Boston Chemical Data Corp. is working with attorneys who are involved in a class-action lawsuit involving Coldwater Creek.

Because of those conflicting results, the Hazelwood School District brought in a third party, called SCI Engineering.

Through sunshine requests, we've learned the cost to do this testing at Jana Elementary was $59,038.

School officials have now asked SCI to do even more samples within the district.

The Hazelwood Central High School football field is one site.

A district spokesperson confirmed this is being done out of an abundance of caution because a former employee made a report saying Jana soil may have been used to level the ground more than 25 years ago.

The cost to test the football field is $12,902. 

The Family Outreach Center at 13780 Old Halls Ferry Road was tested too.

This is in the flood zone of Coldwater Creek.

That cost was $2,800 plus $255 per soil sample analysis.

Jana PTA President Ashley Bernaugh has been fighting for Jana Elementary for years and now, for her community.

"We obviously commend the Hazelwood School District for wanting to investigate. But Hazelwood School District doesn't need to be footing that bill," Bernaugh said. 

She believes the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers could have been of assistance with covering the costs in testing. 

"There should be no reason our tax dollars need to be going to anything other than educational needs. I think this is another reason why the Hazelwood School District needs to answer our repeated requests for having a sit down meeting so we can share this information," she said. 

However, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers confirmed to 5 On Your Side, the agency was never asked to test additional spaces. 

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released this statement:

“The USACE Formerly Utilized Sites Remedial Action Program was not aware that the Hazelwood School District contracted an independent engineering firm to test the HSD Central High School football field and had not received any requests to conduct testing at the school. While USACE has no knowledge of soils being moved from Jana Elementary to Central High School, preliminary results from extensive USACE testing of the soils at Jana Elementary do not indicate the presence of radiological contamination above background levels, outside of a an area indicating low-level radioactive contamination on a densely wooded bank of Coldwater Creek. This area is just inside the edge of the school property and not easily accessible. We certainly understand community concerns about the safety and welfare of its children; It is one of our foremost priorities to provide this community in which we live and work with accurate, reliable and scientifically-sound data with which to make informed and educated decisions.”

Christen Commuso with the Missouri Coalition for the Environment said she worries about contaminated wastes beyond the creek. 

"It’s very possible that waste of contaminated soil has been moved throughout North County," Commuso said.

Bernaugh is also disappointed in the lack of communication from the district about additional testing being done.

Jana PTA is working with Great Rivers Environmental Law Center

It's a nonprofit law clinic and with their help, the groups were able to get more information from the Hazelwood School District through sunshine requests. 

"Hazelwood School District knowing this information and not providing information to the community in a transparent way is a major disservice," Bernaugh said. 

Commuso also worries about the lack of transparency.

"This was a surprise for all of us involved, it's sad that it takes a sunshine request to get this information," Commuso said. "I think to gain trust, you have to communicate and be willing to tell the truth to these people. You can't make decisions for us anymore."

Commuso believes this information should have been released since this is taxpayers money.

She's also curious about how SCI Engineering was hired in the first place. 

"They should’ve informed the community that they are using tax dollars for this money. And how they got the bidding process. It’s confusing to me," Commuso said. 

If you look at SCI Engineering's website, it shows it's not completely independent. 

It lists the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as a federal client.

Credit: SCI Engineering Inc.

"It feels like they didn't do their homework," Commuso said. "It only took a simple Google search to see that SCI has the Corps as a federal client. There should be a lot of voices at this table. I think everyone has a hand in the lack of transparency."

We have reached out to the Hazelwood School District for an interview to learn more, but they have declined to speak.

5 On Your Side also reached out to SCI Engineering. We have not heard back for an interview.

The timeline for testing on the football field is not yet confirmed.

As for the Family Outreach Center,  SCI Engineering told Hazelwood School District, the testing raised no concerns.

As far as what's next, the Missouri Coalition for the Environment is working to form a community-led oversight committee.

This weekend, the group is even knocking on doors in communities near the creek, explaining the possible risks.

As for Jana Elementary and its future, a district spokesperson said, "The district has no new information to provide at this time."

When asked about the cost, a spokesperson for the Hazelwood School District said: “It will be paid for by the district, but could be reimbursed by insurance depending on the outcome of the broader issue.”

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