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Refusing to give in to public hysteria, the Education Department has decided that PS 65 in Ozone Park should open for the first day of school next week. This was a courageous decision. The parents of the children had been whipped into a frenzy by activists who used pseudo-science to convince them that their children were in grave danger.
Last spring frightened parents pulled their children out of the school and the Board of Education promised that the school would be thoroughly tested during the summer break. That is exactly what happened. The testing showed that although the groundwater 35 feet below the school contained unacceptable levels of the cancer-causing chemical trichloroethylene known as TCE, the contaminants were not found in the air inside or outside the school.
Just days before the Education Department said the school would open, the United Federation of Teachers announced that its teachers would boycott the school unless they were given assurances that the air was safe.
Based on what evidence were the teachers ready to throw the school year at PS 65 into chaos? A spokesman for the UFT said the results from the testing showed the contamination is serious and would pose a risk to students and staff. Really?
The UFT was half right, which for the UFT is pretty good. The tests showed the levels of TCE in the groundwater were as high as 2,800 parts per billion. Safe levels are no more than 5 parts per billion, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
The state Health Department also found that the air inside the school was not affected by the groundwater. They claim there is nothing in the air that would justify closing the school. Other scientists said last year that the groundwater did not present a danger to the students. The DEC is working with Ozone Industries, the company that caused the contanimation, to clean up the groundwater.
The scientific data said the school is safe. But what about reports that the air in the school was making the children sick? Board of Education records show that the number of reported absences at the school was slightly lower than other schools in Queens.
It will be hard to convince parents that their children are safe. Every time a child complains of headache or nausea, parents will wonder if the school is really safe. Its easier to start a panic than to end one.
©2002 Community Newspaper Group
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