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Energy Department: No Elevated Radioactivity At Piketon School

Zahn's Middle School in Piketon was closed amid concerns about radioactive contaminants.
Nick Evans
Zahn's Middle School in Piketon was closed amid concerns about radioactive contaminants.

The U.S. Department of Energy says it found no radioactive contamination in samples taken at a Piketon middle school in May, but local officials remain skeptical.

The federal agency announced Friday it found no radioactivity above naturally-occurring levels. Over Memorial Day weekend, a team of DOE workers collected 44 samples at Zahn’s Corner Middle School. Researchers at Savannah River National Laboratory analyzed the samples.

Spokeswoman Kelly Love said in an emailed statement, “There is no public health or safety risk from radioactive material preventing Zahn’s Corner Middle School from opening this fall.”

District officials closedthe school after different samples taken at the school came back positive for radioactive isotopes.

The school is a few miles away from the former Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant, which is being decommissioned by the Energy Department.Residents have raised worries about higher-than-average cancer rates around the plant.

The latest samples haven’t changed the thinking of local officials: Students won’t be attending schoolat Zahn’s Corner this fall.

A team based out of Northern Arizona University, whose tests prompted the school’s closure, also tested the samples collected by federal officials in May. In their report, researchers raised concerns about how the samples were collected and argue three of them show elevated radioactivity.

In a statement, Scioto Valley Local Board of Education President Brandon Wooldridge called the results inconclusive.

“That is exactly why we took the proactive step to close Zahn’s Corner School for at least the next year,” he said, "until we can have confidence that we know how much contamination is present and—more importantly—that we can ensure our children and staff are provided a safe and healthy environment to teach and learn.”

The Energy Department responded with a statement saying that it stood behind the study's methodology and results. The department says it will hold public community meetings in early August.

"Pike County representatives chose a unilaterally-determined and unverified analysis approach that neglected to test for all potential radioactive risks in the school, contrary to the Department of Energy and Ohio Department of Health’s standard and internationally-recognized risk assessment," the statement reads.

Pike County Health officials say the conflicting findings make a third-party independent assessment currently under way all the more important. The Energy Department says it continues to support that effort.

A firm called Solutient Technologies is conducting the independent study.

Nick Evans was a reporter at WOSU's 89.7 NPR News. He spent four years in Tallahassee, Florida covering state government before joining the team at WOSU.