While local, state and federal leaders work to determine the extent of the radiological contamination in and around a Pike County middle school, some parents are wondering if the air their children breathed caused them to become extremely sick.
Wayne Smith’s daughter died on February 28, 2013, just shy of her 16th birthday.
Katlyn Smith had spent three years battling Rhabdomyosarcoma, which is classified as a cancer of the soft tissue, connective tissue or the bone, by the National Cancer Institute.
According to several local officials and her father, Katlyn was one of five current or former Zahn’s Corner Middle School students to be diagnosed with cancer, in recent years.
“No kid should have to go through that,” Smith said. “There’s been a lot of them who have.”
Earlier this month, the Scioto Valley Local School District Board of Education closed the middle school for the remainder of the school year and all of next year, due to independent testing conducted by a researcher from Northern Arizona University, which uncovered enriched uranium in the building.
A nearby air monitor also detected neptunium, across the street.
Smith said he can not help but wonder if the radiological elements caused his daughter’s cancer.
“Now that it’s out, that we have those results from Northern Arizona University, the thought’s in the back of your mind,” Smith said. “It makes you wonder, you know what I’m saying? Whether that’s where it came from, I can’t say that it did or it didn’t. I don’t know. I would like to know.”
Zahn’s Corner Middle School sits just miles from the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant, which previously produced enriched uranium. The plant has been undergoing a cleanup and decontamination, raising fears of airborne radioactive particles in the area.
Shortly after the school was closed, the U.S. Department of Energy released the following statement about the radioactive material discovered in the area:
“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 1,000 to 10,000 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.
“The DOE has agreed to pay for independent, third-party testing of the air in the area.”