UPDATE | School closes after positive radioactive tests; DOE to continue waste disposal work

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PIKE COUNTY, Ohio (WSAZ) -- UPDATE 5/14/19 @ 6:03 p.m.
Summer break began Tuesday for students at Zahn’s Corner Middle School in Pike County, as school officials wrestled with test results which detected radioactive substances both outside and inside the building.

The Scioto Valley Local School District in Ohio decided to close Zahns Corner Middle School after enriched uranium was detected inside of it.

Superintendent Todd Burkitt tells us he’s frustrated he wasn’t alerted about the problem for more than a year. At this time, he’s not sure if the building can reopen in the fall.

Meanwhile, the work to dispose of nuclear waste about 3 miles away is not stopping.

The American flag waved in the breeze outside the school. But there's no students or staff inside until further notice.

The reason is that prevailing wind, just 3 miles as the crow flies from the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant which enriched uranium for the federal government until 2001.

An air monitoring station across the street from the school detecting neptunium in 2017. But Burkitt didn't find out until March 2019.

"A little upset, to be honest," he said.

He adds very little is known beyond that, including how often the station is monitored or if there’s been more positive tests since 2017.

"No. Not at this time."

That positive test led a community member to pay for an independent evaluation inside the school where both swabs tested positive for enriched uranium. He hopes staff and kids weren't in danger.

"My hope is that the levels were low, but until we get results, I don't know that anyone can answer that," Burkitt said.

Lena Blanton lives a short distance away from Zahn’s Corner Middle School, part of the Scioto Valley Local School District. Her 8-month-old granddaughter sat on her knee as she spoke with WSAZ's Dan Klein.

"This is my life right here,” pointing at the baby. “This is what makes me go on."

Blanton's youngest daughter just finished at Zahn’s Corner last year, the third of her children to go to middle school there.

She lives in view of the yellow school crossing sign and thinks the building may need a new warning out front after the air quality test.

"They should make a sign for that."

She's glad school was canceled, but also worries about living so close.

"If I could, I would move away, go down south," Blanton said.

Burkitt said the building will remain closed until an independent third party can verify the school is safe, with the testing cost paid for by the Department of Energy. But that decision could takes weeks or even months.

Meanwhile, that prevailing wind keeps blowing.

"It's concerning. It's definitely concerning,” Burkitt said.

Students at Zahn's Corner have already met the state-minimum for classroom time, so they don't need to go back.

Meanwhile, the Pike County General Health District released a statement Tuesday. It said the Department of Energy disclosed Monday, while no neptunium was detected in 2018 at the air monitoring station by the school, there was another radioactive isotope called Americium-241.

Officials with the Department of Energy said the work to dispose of the radioactive material will not stop until they have more data.

UPDATE 5/13/19 @ 6:40 p.m.
A middle school has closed its doors after radioactive materials have been detected inside and outside of the school.

The Scioto Valley Local School District decided to close Zahns Corner Middle School after enriched uranium was detected inside of it.

This comes less than three weeks after another radioactive material, Neptunium 237, was detected by a U.S. Department of Energy air monitor located near the middle school.

In a letter to parents and staff, the Scioto Valley Local School District states that the middle school will remain closed "until the source, extent, level of contamination, and potential impacts to public health and the environment can be determined."

The letter also states that the enriched uranium and Neptunium are "contaminants of concern by the U.S. Department of Energy on the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant property" which is located near the middle school.

The Scioto Valley Local Schools District says it worked with the Pike County Health Department to make this decision.

School officials say they believe it is in the student's best interest to close the school for the remainder of the year.

The Pike County General Health District held a public forum Saturday after officials say traces of Neptunium 237 were found in an air monitor.

The air monitor is across the street from Zahn's Corner Middle School in Pike County.

"It's a very scary thing, I've asked many many questions, I've taken part in public comment --any forum that I can for the safety of my family and my community," said concerned parent, Elizabeth Lamerson.

The Pike County General Health District says due to Department of Energy documents, Neptunium is on the Portsmouth reservation and has reached the air monitoring station as a likely result of construction activities on the On-Site Waste Disposal Facility.

"On site waste disposal site you have construction, you've already said there's neptunium 237 on this property..now you've dozed and excavated the whole property. Neptunium shows up in an air monitor...where's it probably coming from," said Health Commissioner, Matt Brewster.

The Pike County General health District says right now it's too early to know the health impacts of contamination.

But the Health District is asking state and federal partners to assist them with stopping any further construction on the On-Site Waste Disposal Facility and move forward with a full investigation of off site contamination. They say they want this done until it is determined that harmful contamination will not reach their citizens.