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Piketon Will Keep Middle School Closed After Radiation Scare

Zahn's Middle School in Piketon was closed amid concerns about radioactive contaminants.
Nick Evans
Zahn's Corner Middle School sits near the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant. The school closed May 14 after the detection of two radioactive isotopes.

Students at a Piketon middle school that closed over radiation concerns will attend classes elsewhere next fall.

A letter from Scioto Valley Local Schools superintendent Todd Burkitt says fourth and fifth graders from Zahn’s Corner Middle School will be housed in Jasper Elementary, and sixth graders will attend class at Piketon Junior/Senior High.

Burkitt says the district anticipates weeks of environmental testing at the Piketon middle school.

“It is our desire to provide a safe, stable learning environment for all of our students. We hope this information will alleviate some concerns and allow parents, students, staff and administrators to plan for the upcoming school (year) accordingly,” Burkitt wrote to parents.

The district closed Zahn’s Corner on May 14 after an independent researcher found trace amounts of uranium inside the school. A U.S. Department of Energy air monitor near the school also detected neptunium, another known carcinogen.

The Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant, a former uranium enrichment plant, is in the process of being decommissioned a few miles away. However, federal officials insist the level of radioactive material found should not trigger public health concerns.

Local residents still worry about higher-than-average cancer rates around the plant, and school officials say they’re not comfortable with any radioactive material near the building.

Pike County General Health District commissioner Matt Brewster has called for an in-depth cancer study for the region.

The nuclear plant’s former head scientist, David Manuta, told WOSU’s All Sides With Ann Fisher that he’s “appalled” that federal energy officials would try to justify any level of neptunium near a school building.