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Update: Students Will be Moved to Alternate Locations Next School Year

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Update (2:30 p.m. 5/24/19)

Scioto Valley Local Schools say they plan to relocate students from Zahn’s Corner Middle School to two alternate sites for the upcoming school year.

In a letter from the superintendent, posted on Facebook by the school board president for Scioto Valley Local School, the district says it will relocate 4th and 5th graders to Jasper Elementary and 6th graders will go to Piketon Junior/Senior High School. Superintendent Todd Burkitt writes, “the decision was made now in order for staff and administration to have some time to work out the logistics and plan schedules.”


Update (10:15 a.m. 5/22/19)

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) – U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry has ordered his agency to release more than four years’ worth of data from air monitors near an Ohio school where trace amounts of radioactive material were discovered.

Perry says the data from 2015 through the first quarter of this year comes from six air monitoring stations on Energy Department property and ten in the surrounding southern Ohio community.

Perry told Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine in a letter Monday the data was provided to Pike County authorities, and to the Ohio Department of Health and the state Environmental Protection Agency.

Zahn’s Corner Middle School was closed last week while more tests are done and health impacts are evaluated.

The school is several miles from the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant, which produced enriched uranium until 2001.


UPDATE (4:45 p.m 5/16/19)

PIKETON, Ohio (WOUB) — Residents of Pike County are still processing the news that enriched uranium was detected inside a classroom prompting the school district to close the school eight days early.

“It’s all too close to home,” said Sarah Osborn, resident of Piketon and Clerk of Courts for the Village of Piketon. “I went to Zahns corner middle school. My children did, my siblings did. We all live within a few miles of the plant, and now these chemicals are in the air that we can breathe in? We didn’t ask for them to be there.”

Osborn, along with many other Pike County residents are left wondering just how much the exposure to airborne, radioactive contaminants has affected the health of her and her family.

“Both of my daughters attended Zahns corner middle school and we were not aware of these chemicals there at the time,” she said. “This could come back and affect them later in life.”

Osborn reiterated, “The parents are scared. They are concerned about taking their children and getting them tested for cancers or anything else that could affect their children. I think the school did well by canceling school at Zahns corner, I support them for that.”

“Within the last 10-15 years we have had 5-6 students pass away of cancer that attended Zahns Corner Middle School,” Osborn added.  

The Scioto Valley Local School District closed Zahn’s Corner Middle School eight days early after the Pike County Public Health District announced the detection of enriched uranium inside a classroom of the school. Neptunium 237, a radioactive element, was also detected in an air monitor across the street from the middle school in November 2017.

“We’re working with the local health department, the Ohio department of health and trying to determine the best course of action,” said Scioto Valley Local District Superintendent Todd Burkitt. “We want the hard data. We want to know that our students and staff are safe. You’re dealing with people’s most precious commodity — their children. They deserve straight answers and they deserve the truth.”

Elizabeth Lamerson, an environmental scientist who lives just along the fence line to the plant, conducted the sampling that discovered the enriched uranium in conjunction with researchers at Northern Arizona University.

“[The sampling] showed enriched uranium above background inside of Zahn’s corner middle school. It also showed enriched uranium in every residence home that I collected a sample from, including a residence that was built in 2007 — six years after enrichment activities ceased.”

Dr. Michael Ketterer, NAU Professor who conducted the sample testing, explained in a memo last week, “To a reasonable degree of scientific certainty, the implied source of the Neptunium 237 at Zahn’s Corner is fugitive dust emissions from the PORTS facility, and not nuclear weapons testing fallout.”

But Ketterer isn’t surprised the Department of Energy is not claiming responsibility for the presence of the contaminants, “It seems like in DOE, there’s still an old school culture where they don’t really want to admit that any of this ever happened.”

Zahn’s Corner Middle School resides just over a mile from the nearest property line of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant (PORTS), a former uranium enrichment facility now undergoing decommissioning.  Part of the cleanup plan includes the construction of an on-site landfill in Piketon for low-level radioactive waste.

Local officials including Mayor of the Village of Piketon, Billy Spencer, recently held meetings with Department of Energy representatives to plot the next steps. The Pike County Public Health District has called for construction of the landfill to be stopped while more studies are conducted, however, the Department of Energy is unwilling to halt construction of the waste cell in the interim.  

These new developments only adds to the mistrust between the residents of Pike County and the Department of Energy.  Mayor Spencer reiterated the trust parents place in a school to protect their children.

“Now, that trust has been broken,” Spencer said, “Not by the school, the school did nothing wrong, but, I believe, by the Department of Energy.”

“They can get my trust by stopping the nuclear dump that the community don’t want.”


UPDATE (5/14/19 3:58 p.m.): United States Senator Rob Portman has said a third party independent analysis will be done of the contamination effect of the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant.

In a conference call with media, he said he has called on the Department of Energy to work with the community to find answers after Zahn’s Corner Middle School announced it would be closed for the remainder of the year due to contamination found in the school and in the air around the school.

Portman said conclusions should not be drawn until the independent analysis is done.

“I hope that people will look at this objectively, we’ll figure out what happened first,” Portman said. “We just need to know, again, there’s all sorts of differences of opinions out there, and when we’ve established what the danger is, obviously you want to take every step to avoid it in the future.”

The Pike County General Health District, the Scioto Valley Local School District, Scioto Township, and the Village of Piketon met with Assistant Secretary of Energy Anne White to “present and discuss an action plan to determine source, levels, and extent of the offsite contamination found in the school, private properties, and waters of the state,” according to a press release by the health district.

“DOE has agreed to fund the additional sampling required to characterize the offsite contamination,” the release stated.

The health district will be choosing the third party to do the sampling “to ensure the data is accurate and honest,” according to the release.

“We are taking every precaution to ensure the students and staff at Zahn’s Corner are safe along with the surrounding communities,” health district officials wrote.

Portman said he does not have an opinion on what the next steps are for the plant.

“I’m waiting for the experts to give us the opinion, as others should as well,” Portman said.

No date or timeline was given for the third party analysis. The health district said it will choose the independent contractor to begin the sampling “as soon as possible and as soon as the funding is made available from DOE.”


UPDATE (5/13/19 5:17 p.m.): Zahn’s Corner Middle School will be closed for the remainder of the year while the “source, extent, level of contamination and potential impact to public health and the environment can be determined.”

The Scioto Valley Local School District Board of Education sent out a letter dated May 13 announcing the board’s decision.

“It is the position of the board that any level of contamination on or near our schools is unacceptable,” the letter signed by board President Brandon Woolridge read. “We agree with the Pike County Health Department that the US Department of Energy must take appropriate actions to ensure radiological contaminants are not be released from the [Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant].”

(Read the full letter here.)

The school is just over a mile from the property line of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant, a former uranium enrichment facility now undergoing decommissioning.

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WAVERLY (WOUB) — Residents of Pike County expressed concerns at a Saturday public forum over the discovery of radioactive carcinogens reportedly released from clean-up operations at the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) 2017 Annual Site Environmental Report, identified traces of a radioactive element, Neptunium, in an air monitor directly across the street from Zahn’s Corner Middle School.

Enriched uranium was found inside a classroom of the middle school and the attic of a local residence, according to independently published data generated in conjunction with researchers at the Northern Arizona University.

Trace amounts of Neptunium are detectable in the environment almost everywhere, however NAU Professor Emeritus of Chemistry and Biochemistry, and author of the study Dr. Michael Ketterer explained, “What we’re saying here is that the Neptunium and Plutonium in the environment is not accountable from global fallout.”

In samples taken from Little Beaver Creek, adjacent to the Portsmouth campus, Neptunium concentrations were, “on the order of 100 times normal for global fallout,” according to Ketterer.

The Pike County General Health District wants the Department of Energy to suspend activities at the disposal facility “until such time as the extent of the contamination is understood, along with its potential impacts to public health and the environment,” the district said in a press release on Wednesday.

“It is our belief, based on DOE documentation, that Neptunium is on the Portsmouth reservation and has reached the air monitoring station as a likely result of activities related to the construction of the waste disposal facility.”

The Department of Energy reports are inconclusive as to the definitive source of the Neptunium detected in 2017, however in a 2015 report, DOE acknowledged, “legacy environmental contamination exists in ponds, ditches, and streams” on the Portsmouth site.

Commissioner of the Pike County Public Health District, Matt Brewster doesn’t understand why the Department of Energy waited until January 22, 2019 to publish environmental data from 2017. Brewster  asserts if the Department of Energy has 2018 data now, it should be published; that more transparency would go a long way to mitigate public fear.

“There just has to be more sampling done to figure out, ‘are those levels [of detectable Neptunium] harmful to health?’” he said.

The recent developments add to the fundamental distrust between the people of Pike County and of The Department of Energy because of past misstatements of key information about fractures in bedrock on the site. Since 2017, a group of residents in Pike County formed the activist group CARD (Citizens Advocating for Responsible Disposal) to oppose the department’s clean up plans.

The Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant is a facility which produced highly-enriched, weapons grade Uranium for the U.S. Navy from 1954 through the end of the Cold War. Referred to locally as the A-plant, enrichment operations ended in May 2001 and federally funded environmental remediation projects have been underway at the site since 1989.

Part of the clean up plans include the construction of a permanent on site waste cell, to house the demolition debris from enrichment facilities in addition to other various hazardous materials currently on the Portsmouth reservation.

Pike County Commissioners along with representatives from The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, Ohio Department of Health, U.S. Department of Energy and Fluor BWXT, the company contracted by the Department of Energy to carry out cleanup operations, all attended the public forum.