Additional testing coming after uranium detected at middle school

Local News

Ohio Governor Mike DeWine received assurances Tuesday from the Department of Energy that additional, third-party testing will be conducted after the discovery of enriched uranium inside Zahn’s Corner Middle School in Pike County, according to the governor’s office.

The discovery of trace amounts of radioactive material in and around the building in the Scioto Valley Local School District prompted school officials to close the building while more tests are done and health impacts are evaluated.

Zahn’s Corner Middle School is several miles from the U.S. Energy Department’s Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant, which produced enriched uranium until 2001 and where a nuclear waste disposal site is being built.

The site is currently undergoing cleanup and decontamination.

School Board President Brandon Wooldridge says the decision to close the school building was announced to parents and the community on Monday. “The school board made a stand to shut the school building down until we got better readings, results, independent study,” Wooldridge told NBC4. “It’s hard to find someone that’s not connected with the Department of Energy to have an unbiased study done but that’s what the steps are we’re taking right now.”

DOE released a report in 2017 saying trace amounts of radioactive neptunium were detected in an air-monitoring station on the school’s grounds. Wooldridge says the district was unaware of that report until last month. “They were two years giving any of the information back to the school and it (monitor) sits right across the road,” Wooldridge said. “We kind of relied on DOE’s word and as of now, for me, they’ve got a lot of explaining to do.”

After learning of the DOE report, additional sampling was conducted.

Environmental scientists Elizabeth Lamerson says she collected samples from residences and from the school. “A lot of the samples were very concerning,” Lamerson said. “There were some samples taken from within the school that had enriched uranium above background.”

Lamerson is also a parent of a student at the middle school. “You know it’s very difficult because you don’t know, you don’t know how that’s going to affect – it could affect one child differently than another and you don’t want ill effects on any child,” Lamerson said. 

The Department of Energy issued the following statement:

“Routine air samples in the area of DOE’s Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant in Piketon revealed trace amounts of two radiological isotopes that were more than one thousand to ten thousand times below the established threshold of public health concern.  DOE treats all detections seriously – even those that are at such low levels.

“The Department of Energy is committed to the safety, health and protection of our workforce, the general public and the environment at all our sites. Accordingly, we are working together with the local officials and stakeholders to engage an independent third party to perform an additional analysis of the air and ground readings to properly assess the situation. We are confident that those
 findings will allay any cause for further concern.”

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