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ICSD has no request in for TCE testing


ITHACA — The Ithaca City School District has not formally requested additional indoor air testing at South Hill Elementary school, according to a state Department of Environmental Conservation spokeswoman Friday afternoon.

“ICSD hasn't put a formal request to us in writing in order to consider it,” said Diane Carlton, citizen participation specialist for the DEC. State agencies such as the DEC require requests in writing before they can consider them, she said. “I expect that if they really and truly want this, they would put something in writing.”

Paul Mintz, assistant superintendent for business services for the district, said the school district has not yet requested additional testing because it wants the teachers, staff and parents at South Hill to understand the results from the existing tests performed this summer and hear from representatives of the DEC and the state Department of Health about why they think no further testing is necessary.

ICSD Superintendent Judith Pastel told The Journal Sept. 12 that the district would request further testing.

“We've already verbally told them that we want to do additional testing ... We are in fact requesting that there will be more testing,” she said.

Pastel was unavailable for comment Friday because of events at Ithaca High School, her assistant said. Mintz responded on her behalf: “The superintendent was indicating that, yes, we might request additional testing. She also indicated at that board meeting she wasn't going into the details because we were waiting for the final report.”

According to the Board of Education minutes for Sept. 11 available on the district's Web site, “Superintendent Pastel commented she is waiting for the written report from DEC. She assured parents air testing will be done in the building.”

Rich DePaolo, a South Hill parent who attended that meeting said Pastel assured parents that additional testing of indoor classroom air would be conducted during the heating season when trapped air raises the level of contaminants.

“She was also very emphatic and very assuring that it would be done. She didn't say she would request testing, she said she would conduct testing,” DePaolo said. “Testing is only a good thing. The only reason you don't test is if you don't want to find out.”

Outdoor soil vapor sampling on the school grounds and playground was carried out this summer by Emerson Power Transmission, which sits across Aurora Street from South Hill Elementary. Emerson tested for trichloroethylene (TCE), tetrachloroethylene (PERC) and other volatile organic compounds, which were used by the plant's previous owner, Morse Chain, to degrease parts until the late 1970s. The chemicals are considered likely carcinogens.

Those tests found detectable levels of TCE and PERC in every sample but at levels that the DEC and Department of Health considered low enough to require no further action. Because the site is an elementary school, however, the school district urged the DEC to carry out additional testing inside the school.

The DEC tested under the basement sub-slab and in the basement crawlspace of the school in August and found low but detectable levels of TCE, PERC, chloroform and other volatile organic compounds underneath the building basement's sub slab.

There was no detection of TCE or PERC in the indoor air samples in the basement crawlspace. Other volatile organic compounds were detectable at low levels in the basement crawlspace. DEC and the Department of Health assert that the school is safe and no additional testing is necessary.

“The recommendation from DOH and DEC was based on the testing done,” Mintz said. “Their recommendation was that nothing further needed to be done.”

A group of 77 parents, elected officials, and environmental activists disagree and say additional testing of classroom air should be conducted. The group signed a letter drafted by Walter Hang of Ithaca-based Toxics Targeting and sent it to the DEC Sept. 13. Signatories included Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton, D-125th District, and City of Ithaca Mayor Carolyn Peterson, as well as other city, town and county officials.

The school district hosted a meeting this week with the DEC and the Department of Health to discuss the possibility of further testing at the school, according to both Carlton and Mintz.

All three agencies agreed to hold an informational meeting for South Hill employees and parents sometime in the next “month or two” to discuss the existing test results. No specific date for the meeting has been established, Mintz said.

Mary Jane Peachey, a regional engineer for the DEC who has been involved with the South Hill Elementary testing, said the cost to run one sample is approximately $600. She estimated that the full cost of the August testing carried out by DEC inside the school was $15,000, which was paid by the state.

If the DEC agrees that further testing is necessary, it would be paid for by the state's Superfund. Mintz said the state agencies would have an opportunity to argue against further testing and concerned parents would have an opportunity to argue for further testing.

“As with any of these things you have to weigh the concern, and whether the concern is based on fact, versus the expenditure of public funds,” Mintz said. “I realize that for some it's just an added level of comfort, but I think you also have to look at, based on what's been done to date, is it justified or is it not justified?”

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