Elevated PCB levels detected at 12 town schools
Published 9:37 am, Wednesday, September 25, 2013
A dozen public schools have areas with potentially elevated PCB levels, according to a report reviewed Tuesday night by the Board of Education.
Jeffrey A. Hamel, senior vice president of remediation services at Woodard & Curran in Andover, Mass., said PCBs in schools are mostly found in caulking and sealants manufactured before 1980 and that his firm classified a total of 20 areas at the schools as needing work in the near future. Some of those areas are broad, but Hamel said the PCBs could be covered with fresh caulking or sealants until the school undergoes a renovation. "The mere presence doesn't mean they're a risk and need to be removed," he said of PCBs. "It's more to manage them appropriately, similar to asbestos. PCBs are falling in that line."
Lisa Campe, vice president of risk assessment at Woodard & Curran, said, "It's really about the exposure potential."
Areas in the schools were tested using chlorine as an indicator because PCBs have chlorine in them, Hamel said. Hamel said his firm didn't conduct air-quality tests or collect bulk samples for analysis.
"If we had seen something with very high chlorine and in bad condition and accessible, there might have been a recommendation to sample," Campe said. Hamel said PCBs are heavy molecules and are considered to be non-volatile. He said they tend to stick to a surface unless that surface is agitated or flaking.
Superintendent of Schools David G. Title said the cost estimate to do the work recommended in Woodard & Curran's report is not yet known. "We are giving this report to some vendors to get some pricing on what it would cost to get some of these listed as `medium' done immediately," he said. "Some of it is periodic inspection. Some of it is immediate action."
Hamel said the recommended work, which involves covering areas that have potentially high levels of PCBs with fresh caulking or sealants, was similar to the management program for lead paint and asbestos. "The essence of those management programs is, if a material is intact or inaccessible, it's managed in place `til there is a disturbance or renovation," he said.
Areas that need to be covered with fresh caulking or sealants in the near future according to Woodard & Curran's report included:
- Fairfield Warde High School: Interior doors in the gymnasium hallway.
- Fairfield Ludlowe High School: Interior window frames in the pre-2005 portion of the building. The report says laboratory data indicated PCBs were present at levels up to 660,000 parts per million in exterior window caulking and 4,900 ppm in interior window caulking. The federal Environmental Protection Agency's threshold level is 50 ppm.
- Fairfield Woods Middle School: 12 vertical joists in the 1959 portion of the building and a stairwell window in the 1954 portion of the building.
- Tomlinson Middle School: The interior side of three second-floor arched windows.
- Holland Hill School: Eight vertical joists on exterior walls of the library and gymnasium. The caulking is located in areas used as playgrounds.
- Mill Hill School: The south wall in the principal's office (along an expansion joint) and a hallway door to the south of the gymnasium.
- North Stratfield School: Exterior steel doors near playground areas, and the interior of a single-paned window on the platform area of the auditorium.
- Riverfield School: Two brick-to-brick expansion joints on the 1971 gymnasium's exterior wall, and the interior side of windows along the perimeter of the media center.
- Roger Sherman School: The interior side of exterior walls in all classrooms along the southern half of the school and three classrooms along the northern half of the portion of the building built in 1962. Also, vertical brick-to-brick wall joints and door frame joints in the courtyard area, and the interior side of exterior classroom doors in the 1962 portion of the building.
- Jennings School: Exterior door joints of classroom doors in the 1967 portion of the building, and windows in classrooms 4, 5, 6, 7 and 9 through 25.
- Dwight School: Exterior doors in classrooms 1 through 14 and 17 through 21 and two kindergarten classrooms, plus exterior doors in the faculty area, gymnasium, southern corridors, all-purpose room, west-side vestibule entry, boiler room entry and transfer room entry. Also, interior doors near a restroom in the northeast corner of the building.
- Osborn Hill School: One window in a hallway leading to the gymnasium. The report didn't include areas already being addressed after high levels of PCBs were discovered during a window replacement project several years ago.
McKinley School, Burr Elementary School and Roger Ludlowe Middle School were built after PCBs were banned in 1980, and Stratfield School wasn't on the list of schools needing work because it recently underwent a major renovation and testing for PCBs already had been done.
Liz Moyse of South Pine Creek Road, who spoke during the public comment portion of Tuesday night's meeting, said there was "very little transparency" with the testing at Mill Hill School and that the consultants hadn't met with the school's PTA. She also questioned whether enough testing had been done at the school.
Earlier, Jessica Gerber, the Board of Education's secretary, said Dwight was the only school other than Osborn Hill School with fireproofing in the roof of the gymnasium, which was the source of ongoing PCB problems at Osborn Hill. But Hamel said the fireproofing at Dwight seemed intact and there was not a direct opening underneath it, unlike at Osborn Hill. The report says no pieces of fireproofing were seen on top of a wood ceiling that is along the bottom of the fireproofed joists.
Board of Education Vice Chairwoman Pam Iacono noted that Riverfield School is undergoing renovation, and Title said the building committee may be able to absorb Woodard & Curran's recommended work at Riverfield if it falls within the scope of that project.
Title added that an update to the school board's Long Range Facilities Plan had awaited Woodard & Curran's report, along with updated enrollment projections and a report from the Police Department on needed security improvements at the schools. "I think it has to be done with all the full information," Title said of determining the order of renovation projects at the schools. "Ultimately that would be the board's decision in the spring."