A middle school has been forced to close for the remainder of the academic year after enriched uranium and Neptunium 237 (a byproduct of nuclear reaction and plutonium production) were detected inside Zahn’s Corner Middle School in Piketon, Ohio.
Both substances are radioactive and extended exposure can cause cancer. Officials are currently working to determine both the source and the extent of the contamination. The middle school has about 320 students.
“Scioto Valley Local School District Superintendent Todd Burkitt made the decision to close the school on Monday. ‘Even the last couple of hours have been very hectic. There’s just not a playbook in how we deal with this. We’re kind of writing the script as we go. We’re not going to take any chances on someone’s child. We just won’t do that,’ Burkitt told WLWT.”1
(According to the state department of education, the kids had already fulfilled their necessary classroom hours for the year. Makes you wonder what they would still be doing for another month? But that’s another story.)
Local residents have suggested that the nearby Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant might be responsible for the contaminants; “the facility previously produced enriched uranium, including weapons-grade uranium, for the United States Atomic Energy program and for use in U.S. nuclear weapons. Uranium enrichment at the site ended in 2001.”1
However, that site is currently being cleaned by the Department of Energy who is taking “routine air samples in the area.”1So far, trace amounts of two radiological isotopes have been found but they were “more than one thousand to ten thousand times below the established threshold of public health concern.”1 (And there was no mention that they were the two currently affecting the school.)
We will update you as we have more information. But if you live in the area and have any news or updates to share with us, please do so below. We cannot imagine the fear and frustration the parents of those middle schoolers are feeling. Our thoughts are with them.