A school district in southern Ohio has closed its middle school because of concerns of radioactive contamination from a shuttered uranium enrichment plant fewer than five miles away.
The Scioto Valley Local School District announced it was closing Zahn’s Corner Middle School on Monday after U.S. Department of Energy officials said they had no plans to stop their work at the former Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant, a 3,000–acre facility that stopped producing enriched uranium in 2001. Energy Department contractors are building a waste disposal site on the plant as they work to clean up the site.
Board of Education President Brandon K. Wooldridge said the district is working with the Ohio Department of Education to make up the eight remaining days in the school year for students. The school has a population of about 360, he said.
County Health Department officials became concerned about contamination after the recent release of a 2017 Energy Department report that said the DOE found traces of neptunium at an air-monitoring station on the grounds of the middle school. Neptunium is a carcinogen linked to bone cancers.
In a statement, the Department of Energy confirmed that trace amounts of neptunium were found in two ambient air-monitoring stations near the plant.
“Even though the detected levels were well below the established thresholds of concern for public health, DOE is taking immediate steps to obtain independent soil and air quality samples in the surrounding area, and will take all appropriate actions to address community concerns,” the statement read.
The DOE later sent out an updated statement saying, ”“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.”