Teachers consider boycott amid new PS 65 chem tests

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The United Federation of Teachers has threatened to boycott the opening of school at PS 65 in Ozone Park after receiving results from testing for cancer-causing chemicals conducted by the state Department of Environmental Conservation over the summer.

“Unless we are assured by city and state health officials that the school is safe we will not allow our staff to go in on opening day, effectively closing the school,” said UFT spokesman Ron Davis.

Union representatives had previously backed school and health officials who said the school was safe, but Davis said the new results show the “contamination is serious and would pose a risk to students and staff.”

The tests revealed that levels of the cancer-causing chemical trichloroethylene, or TCE, in the groundwater were as high as 2,900 parts per billion, said Peter Constantakes, a spokesman for the state DEC. The accepted safe levels for TCE are no more than 5 parts per billion, he said.

The tests also found slightly elevated levels of TCE in soil vapors around the school, Constantakes said.

The DEC already knew that the groundwater was contaminated and the findings gave the agency a better map of the toxins. The department is working with Ozone Industries, which caused the contamination, to clean up the site.

School and health officials had previously told parents the contaminated groundwater 35 feet beneath the 103-22 99th St. school was not a safety concern.

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

At the same meeting, Gary Krigsman, a city 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.

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.

A decision on whether the school will reopen in September was expected by the end of the week, the Board of Education said in a statement.

School officials had developed contingency plans last spring in the event a closure was deemed necessary, but after extensive environmental testing and a review of school medical records, they decided to keep the building open.

The school was closed for the summer session to facilitate the additional testing.

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

Posted 7:16 pm, October 10, 2011
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