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Board of Ed tests PS 65 for trace levels of TCE

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The Board of Education and city Department of Health continued to test the air at PS 65 in Ozone Park over the weekend in an effort to determine why parents say their children are suffering from an array of illnesses.

The tests, more sensitive than the initial round that all came back negative for cancer-causing contaminants at the 103-22 99th St. school, were designed to detect ambient, or background levels, of any toxins in the air. Experts collected air samples in canisters containing charcoal, a test design intended to reveal much lower detection levels for contaminants, said Board of Ed spokesman Kevin Ortiz.

“Those are the levels you find anywhere in your home, your office,” he said. “Those levels will be low, but we want to find out what they are.”

News reports that carbon dioxide levels in the air at the school were too high and the groundwater beneath the building was contaminated by the cancer-causing agent trichloroethylene drove parents into a frenzy beginning in early May. Many said their children suffered from rashes, dizziness, headaches and sore throats and attributed the illnesses to environmental conditions at the school.

Samples were taken over the weekend with the building’s ventilation system both off and on, and results will be released to parents at a meeting Tuesday, said Ortiz.

Carbon dioxide levels, which were slightly elevated in some classrooms, were brought under control by changing ventilation patterns to allow more outside air to enter the building, officials said. The carbon dioxide levels are all now below 1,000 parts per million, a benchmark parents demanded the school reach following television reports that detailed elevated levels of the colorless, odorless gas in some classrooms.

Meanwhile, a group of parents represented by Manhattan attorney Peter Ronai said they would not be satisfied until they could conduct their own testing of the school building.

“Why is my child not sick when she is home, and then sick when she is in school?” asked Katie Acton, mother of a fourth grader who has breathing problems, and one of Ronai’s clients.

These parents said hikes in attendance reported last week were the result of automated phone messages sent by the Board of Ed notifying them of their children’s absence and not due to the belief the school was safe. They said the messages noted it was unlawful to keep their children out of school.

Ortiz said children are required to be in school and that the phone calls are made automatically to any child in the public school system who has a prolonged absence. Attendance had risen to 89.6 percent May 29 from a low of 73 percent May 16, according to the latest figures available, he said.

The Board of Ed is working with parents who request transfers to find placement in other District 27 schools, but as of last week, only eight parents had asked for their children to be removed from PS 65, officials said.

Shanti Ramoutar, mother of a fourth grade girl, said parents had been offered placements in schools in Far Rockaway and South Ozone Park, making it difficult for them to accept the transfers and deterring others from making such requests.

“The district is overcrowded so we can’t say you can go to this school or that school because there is no room,” said Ortiz. “But we are working with parents to try and accommodate them as best we can.”

Reach reporter Daniel Massey by e-mail at Timsledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 156.

Posted 7:06 pm, October 10, 2011
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