North Stonington school adjusts for 3 rooms closed by high PCBs

North Stonington school adjusts for 3 rooms closed by high PCBs

The Westerly Sun

NORTH STONINGTON — Unexpectedly hazardous air-quality measurements in three rooms at North Stonington Elementary School forced the postponement of the students’ first day of school to this Tuesday.

The Environmental Protection Agency tested for the presence of polychlorinated biphenyls, known as PCBs, and found levels rated as unacceptable for elementary-age children in the library, music room and resource room, said Superintendent Peter Nero.

The decision to postpone opening day from Aug. 30 was made last Tuesday and parents were quickly informed, he said.

The school, which was built in the 1960s, is known to have PCBs in some of the window caulking, paint, and carpet glue. The chemical is a stable liquid resistant to extreme temperature and pressure and was frequently used as a flame-retardant. Commercial production of PCBs began in 1929 and was banned by Congress in 1979 because of possible risks to human health and the environment.

The district has been aware of the presence of PCBs in the schools for some time and has been monitoring levels for the last year in anticipation of the school modernization project. As a precautionary measure, areas around the elementary school were fenced off in early August because of the presence of low, but not dangerous, levels of PCBs in the soil.

Nero said testing had been ongoing around the outside of the building through July, but as the opening of school approached, the district was required to test indoors. Except for the air quality in the three rooms, Nero said the other tests for PCBs came back at acceptable levels.

“All the wipe tests came back very good, even the areas where they encapsulated with a special paint,” he said. “All that testing came out well, it’s just the air quality” in the three rooms.

Testing for PCBs throughout the building will continue every three months, the interval suggested by the Environmental Protection Agency, said Veronica Wilkison, school principal.

In a meeting with the Board of Education on Thursday, parents asked for more frequent testing, but at $15,000 per session, the cost could be prohibitive, Wilkison said.

“There’s a lot of cost to it but the Board of Education tried to reassure parents that the safety of their children is being put first,” she said. “The Board of Ed will see what can be done and they’re looking into the possibility of finding funding for more testing.”

For the school year, all three rooms will be closed off, she said.

The library will be relocated to the special education room, the music room to a social worker’s space, and the four teachers located in the resource room will be spread among different spaces in the building, the principal said.

“It’s been a little bit of a chaotic situation for a little while, trying to figure out where everybody was going to go, but I have to say, the whole staff just pulled together,” she said. “We’re cleaning out spaces and making room where we didn’t think we had spaces and we’re going to be ready for Tuesday and the kids.”


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