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Parents fear health reactions to PS 188 construction

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Parents of students at a Flushing elementary school said ongoing construction at PS 188 is creating health problems for their children and raised concerns about asbestos removal at the institution.

“I’m concerned about the dust,” said Bayside resident Melvyn Meer, whose 10−year−old son is a fourth−grade student at PS 188 on Hartland Avenue.

“Some children suffer more from dust than others, and my child is allergic to dust mites,” Meer added. “I took my child to the pediatrician, and he said for the child not to go back to school. He had him take breath tests and gave him three medicines for his eyes, nose and lungs.”

The physician advised April 6 that Meer’s son should not return to school before spring recess, which began April 9 and ends April 20. Meer plans to take his son back to the pediatrician prior to the end of spring break in order to decide whether or not it is safe for the child to return to the building where construction has been ongoing since the beginning of the school year.

According to city Department of Education spokeswoman Margie Feinberg, dust has been created as workers replace mortar between bricks. The brick work should be completed within a couple weeks, Feinberg said.

“They are working with the school to make sure dust is not in classrooms,” Feinberg said. “They’ll always protect the classrooms.”

All construction work is conducted after school hours and classrooms are checked for dust before the building opens, Feinberg added.

Construction is expected to continue until the end of 2009, Feinberg said. Work will include replacement of windows, masonry work and a boiler and heating upgrade.

Parents said their children tell them dust permeates the air and frequently covers such surfaces as their desks. Parents were so concerned about students’ health that they requested a meeting with the city School Construction Authority, which was held along with the principal last week.

“There has been a big increase in visits to the nurse’s office,” said Bayside resident Marietta Moradi, whose 9−year−old daughter attends PS 188.

“My daughter has had mostly eye problems,” Moradi said. “She got conjunctivitis. She has been irritated for the past two months.”

Moradi said she is especially concerned about asbestos in the building. While parents were told by the principal that all asbestos work would be done last summer, Moradi said she was informed by SCA officials that asbestos had recently been found in two second−floor classrooms and bathrooms.

Moradi was also told that workers conduct nightly asbestos testing to determine whether the school should close the following day.

Though U.S. Environmental Protection Agency guidelines state teachers, parents and staff must be notified in writing that asbestos abatement is being conducted, Moradi said parents have received no information from the school about it.

Asbestos is a mineral fiber used in building construction materials for insulation and as a fire retardant. According to the EPA, breathing in high levels of asbestos can cause serious illnesses, including lung cancer.

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e−mail at agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 174.

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