By Rob Glidden
In the wake of the discovery of PCBs during the process of planning the middle school renovations, the Board of Education intends to conduct air sample tests at three other schools to address safety concerns from the community.
Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are common in older buildings constructed before their toxic nature became public knowledge. They are often found in window caulking and floor tiles. Given that air samples taken at DePaolo and Kennedy Middle Schools revealed no trace of contamination, the school board is near certain these tests will not turn up anything to worry about. However, the precaution is intended to give residents peace of mind.
“The public asked for it,” said Board of Education Chairman Brian Goralski.
Many of the schools have undergone renovations within the last 15 years, meaning that any traces of PCBs or other hazardous materials would have been eliminated during that process. The air samples will be taken at the three schools which have gone longest without a renovation – Kelley Elementary School, Derynoski Elementary School and Flanders Elementary School. The BOE plans to spend $14,000 on these tests.
“We want to stay out in front with our three oldest buildings and ensure our students and staff that these buildings are safe,” said Superintendent Dr. Joseph Erardi.
Two days earlier, the Town Council had discussed the situation and endorsed the testing of the older schools. Another point of concern was the impact the necessary remediation would have on the overall cost of the renovations.
“In May 2011, the cost was estimated at $50,000 per school,” said Town Council Chairman John Dobbins. “We now know that it will be much higher as the result of new EPA rules on PCB abatement. That does not change our concern for safety in schools.”
It has been speculated that it could cost over $2 million for each school to meet the standards of the new regulations. Town Councilor John Barry was dismayed that officials had not been given more warnings about the potential impact of these regulatory changes.
“I understand that the EPA has changed their standards, but knowing how the EPA works, it didn’t happen overnight,” Barry said. “Nothing moves quickly there. We hired experts to determine the cost of these projects and it seems like the experts should have been on top of what the EPA was doing. I think they let us down.”
Town Attorney Mark Sciota noted that the company that compiled the 2011 report on these environmental issues (EnviroMed) was not the same one working with the town on them now (Hygenix). Councilor Peter Romano said the situation was part of a growing tend of new EPA regulations causing headaches for the town.
“As soon as we were done with the denitrification plant, then it was phosphorous,” Romano said, referencing the ongoing fight between the town and the environmental agencies over Southington’s wastewater. “It’s very frustrating. Before long, it will be something else. This kind of thing never stops.”
More details on the extent of the contamination and a projected cost for abatement are expected to be available later this month.