Tainted tap water suspected in illness at Flushing school

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State Assemblywoman Grace Meng (D-Flushing) called on the city to investigate the drinking water at all its public schools after a number of students were sickened at PS 20 John Bowne Elementary School Tuesday.

About 80 children were sent home early from school Tuesday after drinking water that may have been tainted with chemicals from the school’s air conditioning units, according to the city Department of Education.

“I have already been in contact with officials in both the DOE and the [city Department of Environmental Protection] to demand a full explanation as well as a detailed plan of action to remedy this urgent situation as soon as possible,” Meng said. “As this disaster could have easily happened at the hundreds of public schools in the city, I am demanding that the DOE and the DEP conduct a full survey on the quality of the drinking water at all New York City public schools as well as provide a full account of the current procedures of how water fountains are determined to be safe.”

Principal Victoria Hart sent a letter home with the school’s students to inform their parents about the issue. Parents were also called.

“Today at approximately 12:40 p.m., a contractor was working in the school building and may have inadvertently pumped a substance, propylene glycol, into the drinking water supply,” the letter read.

Propylene glycol is considered non-toxic, Hart said, but the school took “all necessary actions to ensure the safety of” its students, including shutting down the water system and sending students who may have had the water to the school nurse’s office.

The school’s water was set to be tested throughout the night Tuesday, but Hart said she expected the school to open on time Wednesday morning.

Students complained about having stomach aches after drinking from school water fountains, which made at least two students vomit, according to the New York Post.

A contractor was called into the school Tuesday to repair the air-conditioning system, DOE spokeswoman Marge Feinberg told the Post.

She told the Post that the school “immediately shut off the water and provided students with bottled water.”

Sickened students were put on city buses with emergency personnel and school staff and taken to area hospitals for observation, and 20 children had been treated and released by late Tuesday afternoon, fire officials told the Post.

Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4538.

Updated 5:46 pm, October 10, 2011
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