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Group behind Jana Elementary radioactive study says tipster led them to their investigation

"I have a feeling this is not even the beginning or the end of the story," Dr. Kaltofen says.

ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. — Dr. Marco Kaltofen isn't new to the St. Louis area.

The scientist living in Boston, Massachusetts, has been doing work in the St. Louis area since 2014.

He's helped with research on the West Lake Landfill.

Now, his work continues not too far away at Coldwater Creek in North St. Louis County.

Dr. Kaltofen is the President of the Boston Chemical Data Corporation.

He says the company conducts forensic, safety and environmental investigations since 1993.

One of their latest investigations: Jana Elementary School.

Back in August, the Hazelwood School District shared this letter:

Credit: Hazelwood School District

5 On Your Side reached out to the district on Wednesday and asked if it hired the Boston Chemical Data Corporation to do the study. 

A spokesperson said:

"The school district did not hire Boston Chemical Data Corp. The Board is authorizing a study of Jana and any places made aware of need.

As background, this Boston Chemical Corp testing is the one referenced in that August letter."

They didn't pay Boston Chemical Data Corporation to come in but agreed to permit further testing.

So who did pay Boston Chemical Data Corporation?

Environmental lawyers Celeste Brustowicz with Cooper Law Firm and Kevin Thompson with Thompson Barney Law Firm paid for the experts and the lab costs. 

Dr. Kaltofen says this isn't the first time they worked together and admits, he heard about Jana and Coldwater Creek in 2014. 

"To be completely honest, the first time I ever heard about it was from someone from the FUSRAP office here in St. Louis saying, 'You need to investigative in this place, there's all types of stuff going on'. And you know what? They were right," Dr. Kaltofen adds.

FUSRAP is part of the US Army Corps of Engineers, which cleans up sites with contamination. 

After several tips and research, the group got involved and the attorneys paid to move forward.

The investigation

Investigators arrived in St. Louis on Aug. 15, 2022.

They spent a week in the area with one day at Jana Elementary School. 

"The school district was extremely helpful, completely open and free rein and nothing was denied in our investigation," Dr. Kaltofen adds. 

It dug up 32 samples.

It took about seven weeks to get results.

The Boston Chemical Data Corp. study of Jana Elementary said the test results indicate high levels of radioactive lead, Polonium also known as Pb 210 found in the following areas:

  • Inside the Jana Elementary school building (specifically on the cafeteria fan, in the boiler room, and in the school library)
  • Jana Elementary school playground areas’ soil (specifically the kindergarten play area and near the basketball court area)

Dr. Kaltofen says, "The concern was the amount of radioactive we found was a good deal higher than we expected. The contamination inside the school is almost certainly related to the waste in Coldwater Creek."

The other concern was the high level of thorium found, which is a radioactive element associated with the Manhattan Project at Coldwater Creek.

It officially released the report on Oct. 10.

The group claims those results were shared with the Hazelwood School District on the very same day it was released.

Jana's PTA got a hold of the information on Oct. 12, presented the information in a meeting to the rest of the PTA, broke the news on Oct. 14 to school families and Hazelwood released a statement right after.

The concerns rattled many families, staff, and activists, like St. Louis County's NAACP.

Bruce Morrison is Chair of the Environmental Justice Committee for St. Louis County's NAACP. 

He notes, "It is the underrepresented communities that are bearing the brunt of the share, more than they should. What's it going to take is more resources devoted, more money, more people and our federal government deciding that's appropriate to spend the money in a community like this one. There has to be a lot of community pressure, more concentrated than the past to get this site cleaned up."

PTA President Ashley Bernaugh says the majority of students at the school are Black and she worries about the racial disparities. 

US Army Corps of Engineers are the ones responsible to clean up Coldwater Creek.

On Tuesday, Phil Moser, Program Manager, US Army Corps of Engineers, St. Louis District Formerly Utilized Sites Remedial Action Program (FUSRAP) released this statement:

“The US Army Corps of Engineers, St. Louis District Formerly Utilized Sites Remedial Action Program (FUSRAP) team is committed to our mission of executing the Record of Decision (ROD) for The North St. Louis County Sites. Our team will evaluate the Boston Chemical Data Corp. report and methods used to create these results. The Boston Chemical Data Corp. report is not consistent with our accepted evaluation techniques and must be thoroughly vetted to ensure accuracy.

The Jana Elementary School property does have FUSRAP contamination near the CWC bank that is below ground surface and in a densely wooded area. However, the sample locations in the actual floodplain between the Coldwater Creek (CWC) bank and playground area are not contaminated.

While the evaluation is ongoing, early indications from the data are that the FUSRAP contamination is isolated to the CWC bank. The team has been coordinating with the Hazelwood School District regarding the status of sampling on the property. Any contamination posing a high risk or immediate threat to human health or the environment would be made a priority for remediation.

In addition to this property, our team of local area scientists and engineers have collected more than 40,000 samples and various measurements from along CWC. The St. Louis FUSRAP Team takes pride in the use of industry standard sampling and analysis procedures, consistent evaluations using the Multi-Agency Radiation Survey and Site Investigation Manual (MARSSIM), third party reviews and a robust quality control / quality assurance program. We also consult with state and federal regulatory agencies to ensure our methods and conclusions are consistent and in accordance with the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) process.

The St. Louis FUSRAP Team remains committed to this community and will continue to perform our primary mission of protecting human health and the environment.”

Dr. Kaltofen explains US Army Corps of Engineers' mission is different than theirs. 

"They look at the creek and flood plain and we look at the school," Dr. Kaltofen says. 

He says he's open to going back to the school with the US Army Corps of Engineers, sharing information, and getting a better understanding of what's happening. 

"I have a feeling this is not even the beginning or the end of the story," Dr. Kaltofen says. 

What's next?

Here's what's next with Jana Elementary:

  • The two Jana Pre-k classrooms will remain in person but will be transferred to
    Barrington Elementary effective Monday, October 24.
  • The administration will review redistricting options to be put in place prior to the second semester of the 2022/2023 school year, with a target of November 28 for students and staff to report to redistricted schools, if feasible.
  • Parents and staff will be officially notified on Wednesday, October 19 of the
    transition to all virtual instruction to become effective Monday, October 24, and the district’s plans to redistrict Jana Elementary students into current schools by November 28 if feasible, but no later than the beginning of the second semester of 2022-2023 school year.
  • During the week of November 14-18, parents and staff will receive final notifications of new school assignments. (Notifications will be provided earlier if the information is available.)
  • Parent and staff meetings will be held for the Jana parents and staff over the next few weeks to provide additional information and respond to questions
  • On November 28, the first day of the week we return from Fall Break and
    Thanksgiving, students and staff will report to their redistricted schools.

St. Louis County Executive shared this statement on Wednesday:

"I support the action taken by the School Board and share the concerns of the parents. The Department of Public Health is in close contact with the federal agencies responsible for testing and cleanup and we will continue to closely monitor the situation."

Also on Wednesday, US Senator Josh Hawley proposed a plan and asked for some action from the federal government.

To read the full report from Boston Chemical Data Corporation, click here.

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