There’s a lot to be concerned about regarding environmental hazards at Southington’s middle schools and a combination of asbestos, PCB and soil remediation could heavily impact costs to the tune of millions of dollars.
Representatives of Hygenix, Inc., on Tuesday presented their findings of an environmental study at the Kennedy and DePaolo middle schools, which turned up considerable amounts of PCBs and asbestos at both schools. The findings did not indicate any present day safety hazards, according to Southington Superintendent Joseph V. Erardi Jr., but the high levels have left many in the community concerned.
“At the advisement and expertise of (the Middle School Building Committee) and representatives of Hygenix, we’ve discussed the reports internally,” Erardi said. “At 6 p.m., we sent a call to all parents to make them aware of the findings and that we have concluded the buildings are absolutely safe for staff and students.”
In a letter to parents available on the Southington schools website, Erardi said air samples were taken and the PCBs and asbestos remains in place with no impact on air quality. He said removal of PCBs will take place in summer 2013 when no students or staff are present in the schools.
Despite a lack of concern over safety right now, however, the findings of the Hygenix environmental study showed a lot of issues ahead.
Robert C. Brown, a certified environmental hygienist with the Stamford-based Hygenix, Inc., told members of the committee that levels of PCB, particularly within Kennedy Middle School, were well above 50 mg/kg, particularly within the calking used in areas such as windows, along the wooden portions of the floors and within the walls.
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Polychlorinated Biphenyls, or PCBs, are organic materials that were used commonly in construction prior to 1978. When exposed to PCBs at high levels, it can cause illness according to a fact sheet from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
In addition, both schools showed a high level of estimated asbestos that would need to be removed as part of the remediation efforts. This includes more than 200,000 square feet at DePaolo Middle School and over 120,000 square feet at Kennedy, much which is contained underneath tiling and in the ceilings.
See the complete findings in the PDF included above.
“These were not really a huge surprise. These materials were commonly used when the schools were built in the 1960s and it’s more of a surprise when we don’t find this kind of material,” Brown said.
The findings do not mean there is no issue either. Brown told the committee that, due to the high levels of PCBs, the issue must be addressed carefully and will involve a complicated remediation plan developed in partnership with the state Department of Environmental Protection and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
“The next step, right now, is to conduct additional testing with any areas that are in direct contact with the calking. There’s a chance that additional levels may be found,” Brown said. “That information will tell us a lot more.”
The latest findings regarding PCBs are just the latest challenge falling before members of the Middle School Building Committee. Earlier this month, it was revealed that an oil spill in 1980 was not properly documented and may not have been properly addressed either.
Southington Town Attorney Mark Sciota said Tuesday that Hygenix has already taken steps to prepare for testing and plan to begin taking soil samples this weekend.
“We’ve already hired the company for discovery. We could go back and look at the records and issues that occurred, but that doesn’t matter at this point,” Sciota said. “When we test the soil, whatever s there, that’s what needs to be removed. It’s not an option. We won’t know exactly what we are dealing with for another month or so yet.”
Multiple town officials on Tuesday night said the potential remediation needs, regardless of current day conditions, are expect to cost millions to address – and some such as the PCB remediation can not be done if the school is being used.
“It’s a bigger concern than they are letting on,” one elected official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “This is something that could cost millions above the anticipated costs. There is already talk that a special referendum might be needed.”
Members of the committee would not comment on estimated costs Tuesday, saying that they will have a more complete picture in October.
Edward Pocock II, chairman of the building committee, said there is nothing that the committee can do about the past at this point. He said the committee will await the results of the further testing and determine the exact cost for remediation on Oct. 23.
“We know what we are dealing with here, it’s just a matter of putting a value on all of the environmental issues we are facing,” he said. “The biggest concern, as it will be throughout the project, s the safety of the students, staff and parents. We know they are safe right now and that will remain a top priority.”
Erardi will hold a discussion hour tonight at 7 p.m. in the DePaolo Middle School auditorium. The discussion will include a brief presentation and allow for anyone in the community with concerns or questions to talk with Erardi and Hygenix staff.
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