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U.S. Senate passes Jana Elementary legislation requiring cleanup and federal review of testing

WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 05:  Sen. Josh Hawley, (R-MO), speaks during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on "Oversight of the Crossfire Hurricane Investigation" on Capitol Hill on August 5, 2020 in Washington, DC. Crossfire Hurricane was an FBI counterintelligence investigation relating to contacts between Russian officials and associates of Donald Trump. (Photo by Carolyn Kaster-Pool/Getty Images)
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Sen. Josh Hawley speaks during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in August 2020.

The U.S. Senate passed legislation Wednesday to require the cleanup of Jana Elementary School, a measure introduced by U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo.

If it becomes law, the bill also would mandate further testing for radioactive contamination throughout the Hazelwood School District.

Hawley said this cleanup process should have happened decades ago.

“This community in St. Louis has been asked to live with the fallout of the federal government's actions for decades,” Hawley said. “This is just the latest instance.”

In the U.S. House on Tuesday, Rep. Cori Bush, D-St. Louis County, introduced companion legislation.

“No one should have to live with hazardous radiation in our community, let alone elementary school children. Parents and community members deserve to know that our children’s learning environment is safe,” Bush said in a statement. “Our government created this waste to construct the most deadly nuclear weapon in history. They have a responsibility to clean it up and ensure that the safety and well-being of our community is a top priority.”

The bill goes beyond St. Louis, establishing a fund for any school that has been financially affected by radioactive contamination related to U.S. government atomic projects.

Jana Elementary closed in October after a private firm said it found radioactive contamination at the school.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and a private consulting firm hired by the school district have both said the school does not have harmful levels of contamination. The Corps reiterated that message Tuesday when it released a final report from testing it did at the school in late October and early November.

Also on Wednesday, St. Louis University held a technical forum to discuss the underlying science in the different types of testing that have been conducted at Jana. That included professors from St. Louis University and Washington University, as well as representatives from the Army Corps of Engineers and the engineer from Boston Chemical Data Corp., which released the results that led to the school’s closure in October.

Both Hawley and Bush’s legislation orders the Department of Energy to review all testing that has been conducted at Jana Elementary to determine if it was reliable. The House has yet to act on the legislation, and President Biden would have to sign the final version before it would become law.

Kate Grumke covers higher education and the many school districts in the region for St. Louis Public Radio.

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