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NGA director talks to mayor about demolition work; debris near school to be moved

Piles of concrete and brick line a fence separating the former Pruitt-Igoe housing development from the Gateway school complex. Parents and staff at the school say placing the rubble there stirred levels of dust high enough to sicken students and teachers
File Photo | Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio
Piles of demolition debris line a fence separating the former Pruitt-Igoe site from the Gateway school complex, which parents and school staff say stirred up dust that sickened students and teachers. A city contractor will now move the debris to Illinois.

Health problems at a north St. Louis school have gotten the attention of federal officials.

That’s after many parents and teachers blamed respiratory problems on dust from debris brought near their school from the site of the new headquarters of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.

NGA Director Robert Cardillo and Mayor Lyda Krewson spoke Thursday and discussed the handling of the debris.

“The agency has followed with concern the reporting related to the dust emanating from the cleanup debris pile near Gateway Elementary,” the NGA said in a statement Monday.

“NGA Director Robert Cardillo is confident after speaking with Mayor Lyda Krewson Thursday that every effort is being made to ensure that the site's cleanup is meeting the safety and health requirements necessary to protect the public,” the statement concluded.

The city has changed its plans for the piles of concrete and brick; it'll now move the rubble to Illinois.


Dozens of documented breathing problems among students and staff at the Gateway School Complex in the Carr Square neighborhood of St. Louis over the winter have been pinned on demolition work by a city contractor. They were first reported by St. Louis Public Radio in May.

Demolition of a nearly 100-acre area for the NGA facility is being overseen by the city’s economic development arm, the St. Louis Development Corporation. Last fall, a contractor hired by SLDC, Kolb Grading, struck a deal with developer Paul McKee to use the Pruitt-Igoe site immediately to the south of the future federal facility to store and crush debris material. SLDC did not object.

The concrete and brick piles have since towered over a chain link fence separating Pruitt-Igoe and the Gateway school, which about 1,000 students attend.

The debris was tested for hazardous materials before being trucked across the street to Pruitt-Igoe, St. Louis Development Corporation officials have said. Initially, SLDC required the site only be visually monitored for dust. Formal air monitoring started May 7, according to results provided through an open records request. They do not show any elevated levels of dust.


More than a dozen parents and teachers said in interviews that the work in the fall and winter to cut down trees and pile the concrete caused a significant amount of dust to pollute the school’s air. Student’s asthma worsened and attendance dipped. Several teachers were also out sick with respiratory illnesses.

City and St. Louis Public Schools officials initially said there was no reason for concern but a school nurse’s report given to the health department in February contradicts that.

The work was halted in February after parents and school leaders complained, and respiratory problems at the school waned once the work stopped. Summer school concluded at the end of June and work is now underway to remove the debris piles. 

A spokesman for the SLDC said the piles will be moved to a site in Illinois to be used in a parking lot. SLDC Director of Corporate Communications and Media John Parker would not say where in Illinois the debris will be taken. Previously Kolb Grading planned to crush the debris and move it back into the NGA site to be used as temporary roads.

The health concerns raised alarm among elected officials in the city. Alderman Shane Cohn, D-25th Ward, questioned SLDC executive director Otis Williams during a hearing last month, calling the site an open landfill.

St. Louis Department of Health Commissioner Melba Moore told St. Louis Public Radio following that hearing the piles are potentially in violation of open storage laws and her department would investigate.

Williams has been consistent in saying that the debris contains no dangerous material and his agency and contractor followed the law. In an Op-Ed to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch June 28, Williams said he takes the concerns of residents seriously.

“We regret the distress the stockpile of demolition material has caused,” Williams wrote.

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @rpatrickdelaney

Ryan was an education reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.

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