Walcott Promises More Testing for Toxins
August 19th, 2011
By all accounts last night’s meeting in the Bronx between schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott and parents is unlikely to settle the rising concern about the contaminated site of the Bronx New School –- and the problem of polluted schools overall.
Three weeks ago, the Department of Education announced it would shut the Bedford Park building because high levels of trichloroethylene, or TCE, had been found on the site.
The department learned of the unsafe levels in January; it did not tell parents, the principal or the staff until this summer. And although the school has been on the former industrial site for about 20 years, no record exists of it ever having been tested before. And there may be other untested schools as well.
Walcott has said the city is checking another 31 schools whose leases are now up for renewal and plans to complete the tests by early next month. It has not released the names of those schools.
Melissa Checker wrote in Gotham Gazette this week that, while the city must conduct environmental reviews of any property it purchases for a school, it does not have to check out land or buildings it leases. As a result, Dawn Philip an attorney with New York Lawyers for the Public Interest told Checker, “Parents, school staff and community members often have no idea that a leased school site sits on top of contaminated property and, more importantly, what the [Department of Education] has done to eliminate any health risks.”
And Checker notes, the problem will probably grow. The city now leases more than 90 school properties but as it searches for more space, it is likely to enter into more lease arrangements – many of them for former industrial properties that could be polluted.
At the meeting, NY1 reports, Walcott apologized for keeping parents in the dark about a possible danger to their children for eight month. He said he was taking three steps: “One, by apologizing to all of you, two, by saying this will not happen again. Three, as a result of this, the process and protocol for this will change around the notification to parents. And it should not have happened that way.”
While Walcott took responsibility for the failure to disclose the TCE levels at the school last winter, the test results came in during Cathie Black’s brief tenure as chancellor,.By Gail Robinson on August 19, 2011, 1:42 pm
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