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PCBs keep kindergartners in modular units

Posted by Brock Parker  October 15, 2010 12:51 PM

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Kindergarten students at Lexington’s Estabrook Elementary School may be forced to remain in modular classrooms for the rest of the school year unless the school district can reduce the level of polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, inside one wing of the school.

Superintendent Paul Ash informed parents in a letter Thursday that the latest round of testing in the kindergarten wing of the 49-year-old school did not show a reduction in PCBs, and the district is now unsure if it can lower levels of the chemical to federal guidelines for kindergarten-age children.

“It could very well be that after 50 years that the background levels in the school will never get down to low [federal standards],” Ash told the Globe in a telephone interview Thursday.

The Estabrook school closed for more than a week in early September because tests revealed higher than expected levels of the potentially harmful PCBs in the building.

When the school re-opened, kindergarten classes were relocated into modular classes attached to the school, and two first grade classes were moved to other parts of the school. Students that had been housed in the modular classrooms were also shuffled to different parts of the school.

Tests conducted since the beginning of September have shown a significant drop in PCB levels, and Ash said in his letter to parents that he’s confident that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will approve of the present levels for students in grades 1 through 5.

But the federal guidelines are stricter for kindergarten-age children, and Ash said school officials are continuing to brainstorm about ways to meet those guidelines in the kindergarten classrooms.

The district has already encapsulated problematic caulking and tested ceiling panels, but after a more than a month of grappling with the problem, Ash said new ideas for reducing the PCB levels are getting harder to come by.

Ash said the district is asking the EPA if the guidelines for PCB levels in the Estabrook should be higher because the chemical mixture of PCBs found in the school is less hazardous than some other PCBs.

But Ash said that at the very least kindergarten students at the Estabrook school will remain in modular classrooms for the next three weeks while more testing is done.

The school district was already planning to begin the process of building a new school in 2013, but because of the PCB levels school officials are now preparing to submit to the state an emergency statement of interest in building a new school.

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