Background tests reveal no health risks at PS 65

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Sensitive testing for harmful contaminants in the air at PS 65 found the Ozone Park school was safe for children, city officials told parents at a meeting Tuesday night, although some still refused to accept the results.

The levels of toxins in some rooms were slightly higher than those typically found in most buildings, but in all cases fell below minimum risk levels, the officials said.

“I truly believe that the levels don’t warrant anything but a continuation of school and then further evaluation,” said Chris D’Andrea, an industrial hygienist from the city Department of Health.

The Board of Education began testing the school in early May after news reports said carbon dioxide levels in the air were too high and the groundwater beneath the building was contaminated by the cancer-causing agent trichloroethylene. Many anxious parents said their children suffered from rashes, dizziness, headaches and sore throats and attributed the illnesses to environmental conditions at the school.

Officials at the meeting Tuesday promised to continue testing at the school and said the city as well as the state will conduct an extensive environmental review of the building over the summer.

In order to facilitate the testing, which will include drilling into the ground to check the flow of contaminated groundwater, summer school was canceled at PS 65.

Students will be bused from the 103-22 99th St. building to other district schools for summer classes, said District 27 Superintendent Matt Bromme. Many students may need the summer classes since parents were recently informed the school was not meeting state standards for math and language arts.

The Tuesday night meeting that drew about 50 parents was disrupted by CBS 2 reporter John Slattery, who repeatedly interrupted the proceedings with questions and comments from his seat at the back of the room. He was escorted out of the building by school security.

His ejection angered a group of parents, many of whom are part of a contingent that has retained Manhattan Attorney Peter Ronai. About 10 of those parents stormed out of the meeting hall after Slattery was removed and did not return.

“We should all leave because if they had nothing to hide they would not throw the reporter out,” screamed one parent.

Joel Forman, clinical director of pediatric environmental health at Mt. Sinai Hospital in Manhattan, said it was “highly unlikely” contamination of the groundwater 35 feet underground could have an impact on the air in the school. “It is not the way things happen,” he told the parents.

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, said David Klasfeld, deputy superintendent of operations for the Board of Ed. 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.

Before leaving the meeting, parents represented by Ronai complained that the Board of Education reneged on a promise to allow them to conduct their own tests. But Klasfeld said Ronai wanted to enter the building without first developing a protocol for testing. After an initial conversation, Klasfeld said he tried to reach Ronai every day for the last three weeks and the attorney has not returned his calls.

“As a Board of Education, we do not permit just anybody to enter a building,” said Klasfled. Not until he can demonstrate to us that he is a real person, that he is a real attorney, that he has real experts.”

The Board of Ed repeated its offer to meet with the parents’ experts and reiterated the point that a host of agencies reviewed the situation at PS 65 and came to the conclusion that the building is safe for children.

There were representatives of Borough President Helen Marshall, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, the city Department of Health, Mt. Sinai Hospital and the environmental consulting company ATC at the Tuesday meeting.

Gary Krigsman, a Department of Health doctor who runs school health programs in four Queens school districts, said a review of medical records indicated there were no more health problems at PS 65 than in other district schools.

“There were no outstanding trends or health concerns noted in the records,” he said. Attendance, which climbed to 94 percent on Tuesday, has been similar to other schools in the area, he said.

But some parents continued to say the school is making their children sick. “Our kids are still being exposed to something,” said one parent who got up to a microphone and told officials her daughter was constantly sent home by the school nurse complaining of headaches and nausea.

Mt. Sinai’s Forman, who reviewed all testing conducted at PS 65 since 1996, tried to allay parents’ fears. He has experience dealing with school environmental problems and said none of the results at the Ozone Park building should raise health fears.

“I don’t think you have any reason to be concerned that the children or teachers are in health danger,” he said.

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

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