Experts tell PS 65 parents school is safe for opening

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A panel of health, environment and education experts met with parents last Thursday night for the fourth time since environmental concerns at PS 65 surfaced in May, contending once again that cancer-causing contaminants in the groundwater beneath the Ozone Park school have not affected air quality in the building.

While assurances that the air was clean comforted some parents, others continued to insist the school was making their children sick. Several parents have applied for their children to be transferred to other schools.

“We’re doing the most sophisticated tests possible on a regular basis and every one has shown the air in the school to be normal,” David Klasfeld, deputy chancellor of operations for the city Department of Education, told the gathering of more than 250 parents and children in the 103-22 99th St. school’s multi-purpose room.

Klasfeld, who chaired the meeting attended by representatives of the Department of Education, the city Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the state Department of Health, the state Department of Environmental Conservation and ATC Associates, the company that performed the tests, said testing would continue in the weeks and months to follow. Officials will meet on a weekly basis to discuss results.

Acting on advice from the state and city Health departments that the air in the school was safe, Schools Chancellor Joel Klein decided to reopen PS 65 on schedule Sept. 5. Five rounds of testing have been conducted from May through August, all indicating there was nothing abnormal with the air quality.

“I’m pleased that they’re keeping it open,” said the mother of a first-grade girl who did not want her named used. “I trust what they are doing. A lot of kids would suffer if they closed the school.”

But Martha Blackshaw, another parent, asked to have her first- grade daughter and second-grade son moved to PS 207.

“It’s not safe,” she said. “They’re sweeping everything under the carpet.”

Other parents, joined by U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Forest Hills), said groundwater contaminated with the cancer-causing chemical trichloroethylene, or TCE, should be cleaned up immediately.

“I’d like to know what efforts are being made to make sure every September we are not bringing our kids to school with trepidation,” Weiner said, generating a round of applause from parents in the audience.

Tests conducted over the summer by the DEC showed levels of TCE in the groundwater were as high as 2,900 parts per billion. The accepted safe levels for TCE, a colorless liquid used as a solvent for cleaning metal parts, are no more than 5 parts per billion. The tests also found slightly elevated levels of TCE in soil vapors around the school.

As they have since May, health officials said the TCE does not pose a risk to children or staff.

“It’s not impacting people if it’s in the soil,” said Chris D’Andrea, an industrial hygienist with the city Health Department. “That’s why we measure the air in the school.”

The state DEC is working with Ozone Industries, which caused the contamination from its former site on 101st Street, to clean up the groundwater. State law requires the DEC to negotiate with the responsible party before it can spend state dollars on a cleanup, said Dave Harrington, a DEC toxicologist.

As a precautionary measure, the installation of a ground ventilation system designed to keep harmful soil gases from filtering into the school air will be completed by late October, Department of Education officials said.

News reports that carbon dioxide levels in the air at the school were too high and the groundwater beneath the building was contaminated by TCE worked 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.

Parents’ concerns led the then Board of Education to host three meetings at the school last spring to explain testing measures and analyses of school health records.

The reviews of records show that children at PS 65 are not experiencing more health problems than children at other schools in the area and that attendance at the school is normal, officials said.

The testing and safety measures were enough for one parent of a fourth-grade boy who walked up to a microphone during the Thursday night meeting.

“Unless I’m sending my kid to PS 65 to be a collier or a coal miner, I have no problem sending him here,” said Mary Otano.

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

Posted 7:20 pm, October 10, 2011
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