ParentsWorry Over PCBs In Local Schools
The race is on to get schools in Rockaway, and all over the city, tested for toxic levels of PCBs and then to be remediated. With that in mind, parents, teachers and even children attended a meeting hosted by Councilman James Sanders Jr. to discuss the latest problem to hit the Department of Education.
“When we speak of MS 53/Village Academy, we’re speaking of 41,100 [parts per million] above, which means we are high,” said Sanders, on March 7 at MS 53.
The accepted federal EPA standard for PCBs is 50 parts per million. The tests were funded by the New York Communities For Change (NYCC) and New York Lawyers for the Public Interest. Sanders pointed out that the samples from the six different schools tested by the organizations “have not been challenged by the Department of Education, nor has the EPA said these samples are not valid.”
“The Board of Education believes they have a plan to deal with this issue as expeditious, as fast as possible,” said Sanders. “They said to do this would cost three quarters of a billion dollars to do all those schools over ten years …”
“There is one group of people who say ‘we can put up this money and you pay us back over time and we can do this in two years ... [The Board of Education] says there is a better way to borrow money, cheaper over 10 years ... The question is what is in the interests of the children and the people who work in these buildings.”
“One was outside and one was just inside the front entrance,” said Sullivan. “It was just the caulk. It wasn’t a comprehensive test of the whole school, but generally caulk used in one place is used in other places [in the building].”
Parents and educators who attended the meeting want more information. For some, like Susie Wilson, it is personal. She watched as her son went through chemotherapy when he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2008 while in MS 53, after also attending PS 197.
“If exposed to it for a long period of time it attacks the respiratory system,” said Wilson. “These are major issues.”
Lakita Middlebrooks, the vice president of the PTA at MS 53, talked about her children who are students at the school. Her son, who is in eighth grade, and her daughter in sixth grade both have health problems.
“I have one boy who has been coming here for three years,” said Middlebrooks. “Since he came in [here] he has had health problems [such as ADA].”
Her daughter in sixth grade has had headaches since she started to attend the school. “We are gambling with children’s lives,” said Middlebrooks. “I want to know [what’s going on].”
Another resident asked, “How can you do an accurate study when there have been generations now [who have gone through the schools] with this. That’s a long period of time.”
“I trust sooner or later they will do a generational study,” replied Sanders.
While Ed Williams of the NAACP asked if it is safe for people to be in the affected buildings, Sander’s reply was not an encouraging one. According to information he has received from the Department of Education they state that “their process is the correct one.”
“They merely state that their method could deal with the problem,” said Sanders.
Williams added that the community won’t know the true cost of the PCB problem until people are tested.
In regard to having the MS 53 building tested more extensively, Sanders said, “The Board of Education has to lead when it comes to testing. You need to put pressure on the Board of Education – Let’s have more official testing.’”
Richard Narby of the MS 53 athletic department told Sanders, “We need your help to get them [to test and remediate] to come to our building because this is our home.”
Middlebrooks also told Sanders that the low turnout was due to a letter sent to parents by the acting principal of MS 53, Jacqueline Boswell, that downplayed any problems at the school.
The Wave has received a copy of the letter. According to it a pilot study is being done by the DOE, with the agreement of the EPA. Three schools were already tested. “What has been determined thus far, is that neither the presence of PCBs in caulk nor in lighting ballasts has been associated with exposure levels that present an immediate health risk to children and school staff in these buildings …The school remains open and because we, in consultation with the New York Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, do not believe that there is a health risk that warrants closure.”Sanders promised to bring DOE officials to the next meeting. he suggested that people keep up the pressure on the education department. to get their school tested.
“Ultimately it will come down to the dollars,” said Sanders.