Ohio Public School Tests Positive for Radioactive Contamination Prompting Early Shut Down

May 15, 2019 Updated: May 15, 2019

Authorities are investigating how a public school in the nation’s midwest tested positive for radioactive material and had to close early for the end of the academic year on May 13.

The Scioto Valley Local Board of Education makes no apologies for closing Zahns Corner Middle School a week earlier than planned after enriched uranium was detected inside the school building and Neptunium 237 found in a U.S. Department of Energy air monitor adjacent to the school, which is about 65 miles south of Columbus.

“The top priority of the Scioto Valley Local School District Board of Education is to ensure the safety and heath of our students and staff … it is the position of the board that any level of contamination on or near our school is unacceptable,” Board President Brandon Wooldridge said in an open letter. “The Scioto Valley Local School District 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.”

An independent study by the Northern Arizona University also found enriched uranium inside the building, as well as plutonium, uranium, and neptunium in both water and dust samples from the nearby area.

“There’s just not a playbook in how we deal with this,” the district’s superintendent, Todd Burkitt, told WLWT. “We’re kind of writing the script as we go.”

Energy department officials confirmed the radiation levels detected are “well below established thresholds of concern for public health” and will obtain “independent soil and air quality samples in the surrounding area” and “take all appropriate actions to address community concerns.”

The Ohio Department of Health is reviewing existing research and sample results, and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency will also evaluate the data.

“While the amount reported is far below the risk level, we have asked the Department of Energy to investigate it further,” agency deputy director Heidi Griesmer told the Associated Press.

The board believes the contamination could originate from Department of Energy’s Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant, which stopped producing enriched uranium for nuclear plants and the U.S. nuclear weapons program back in 2001.

A nuclear waste disposal cell is being built by the department at the 3,000-acre facility to store the radioactive debris that will come from the demolition of sections of the plant.

“We agree with the Pike County Health Department that the U.S. Department of Energy must take appropriate actions to ensure radiological contaminants are not being released from the site,” Wooldridge said. “We believe that closing Zahns Corner Middle School for the remainder of this school year is in the best interest of our students and staff at this time.”

The Scioto Valley Local School District will work with the Pike County Health Department to develop a plan to ensure students, staff, and members of the community are safe.

The Ohio Department of Education will not expect the school’s 300-plus students to make up for the missed days since they have already completed their academic requirements for the year.

“We’re not going to take any chances on someone’s child, we just won’t do that,” Scioto Valley Local School District Superintendent Todd Burkitt told WLWT5.

Associated Press contributed to this report.