Environment

Ohio School Closes After Radioactive Materials Found on Site

By Pam Wright

May 15 2019 07:40 AM EDT

weather.com

The Department of Energy's Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant, which is located about two miles from the Zahn's Corner Middle School in Piketon, Ohio, may be the source of the contamination that closed the school.
(U.S. Department of Energay)

At a Glance

  • Zahn's Corner Middle School in Piketon, Ohio, will remain closed for the remainder of the academic year.
  • Enriched uranium and neptunium 237, which is a byproduct of plutonium production, were discovered inside the school.
  • The source may be from a nearby facility that stopped producing enriched uranium for nuclear plants and the U.S. nuclear weapons program in 2001.

A middle school in Piketon, Ohio, closed Monday after radioactive materials were discovered on site.

According to a letter from the Scioto Valley Local School School District, enriched uranium and neptunium 237, which is a byproduct of plutonium production, were discovered at Zahn's Corner Middle School, about 80 miles east of Cincinnati, WLWT reports.

The school will remain closed to 320 students and 25 staff members for the remainder of the academic year, perhaps longer, authorities say.

"There's just not a playbook in how we deal with this. We're kind of writing the script as we go," Todd Burkitt, superintendent of the Scioto Valley Local School District, told the news station.

Authorities from state and federal agencies are continuing to test the site to determine the extent of contamination and to try to isolate the source of the cancer-causing radioactive materials.

While the source has yet to be determined, fingers are pointed at the U.S. Department of Energy's Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant, which is located about two miles from the school. The plant stopped producing enriched uranium for nuclear plants and the U.S. nuclear weapons program in 2001, the AP reports.

A waste-disposal cell is being built at the site to store radioactive material when sections of the plant are demolished.

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In 2017, the DOE reported that trace amounts of radioactive neptunium 237 were detected in an air monitoring station at the school.

More recent testing by Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, Arizona, found enriched uranium inside the middle school as well as plutonium, uranium and neptunium in water and dust samples in other parts of the community.

"While the amount reported is far below the risk level, we have asked the Department of Energy to investigate it further," Heidi Griesmer, deputy director for the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, told the AP.

DOE officials echoed Griesmer, noting that while the radioactive levels detected are "well below established thresholds of concern for public health," it would obtain "independent soil and air quality samples in the surrounding area, and will take all appropriate actions to address community concerns," the AP reported.

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