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Schumer Urging EPA to Inspect Island Trees School for Lead

Aug 27, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP

Newsday is reporting that Senator Charles Schumer—Democrat-New York—asked the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) yesterday to “perform a thorough inspection of lead contamination at Island Trees High School in Levittown, New York.”  According to Schumer, "Our children's health must be the top priority and I will push the EPA to do a top-to-bottom inspection and cleanup."  A representative of Schumer’s said a call was made to the EPA's regional office after school board trustee Joseph Buda contacted them about the contamination. Schumer's office expects a response from the EPA today; tomorrow is the school district's monthly board meeting.

In 2003, the district became aware of lead contamination at Island Trees in 2003, after state environmental officials notified it about high levels of lead related to an old rifle range.  The following year, in 2004, the district received notices of violation from the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) for “improperly dumping untreated sand from the rifle range into the tunnels housing the high school's heating and ventilation systems.”  At that time, the school was ordered to remediate the property and a cleanup was conducted in 2006.

Meanwhile, yesterday, Newsday reported that Buda received results of lead contamination tests he had privately commissioned.  Of the samples, one—which was taken from the access room below the auditorium—showed high lead levels of 2,980 parts per million (ppm), which is drastically higher than the EPA standard of 400 ppm.  In April, the state Education Department instructed the district to test the heating and ventilation systems; however, an EPA official confirmed that those tests have not yet been conducted.

At least one parent pulled his children out of the school last November and recently filed a notice of claim against the district saying that one of his son's hearing problems is a result of lead contamination.  This week, Buda changed his two daughters' fall class schedules to eliminate art class, because the art room is located in the basement near the contaminated area.  Buda plans to request that the district close the school until the area can be “comprehensively tested and cleaned.”  Buda will make his request at the board meeting.  Another parent of an incoming freshman sent a letter to the EPA asking that appropriate agencies conduct a complete inspection of the building, "Every nook and cranny should be tested, inspected, and determined to be free from lead, and until that is done, I am not convinced the school is a safe environment...."

Many consider lead poisoning to be one of the most important chronic environmental illnesses affecting children today.  Exposure to lead in children and unborn children can cause brain and nervous system damage, behavioral and learning problems, slowed growth, hearing problems, headaches, mental and physical retardation, and behavioral and other health problems.  Lead is also known to cause cancer and reproductive harm and, in adults, lead can damage the nervous system.  Once poisoned, no organ system is immune.  A major challenge with lead poisoning is the difficulty in recognizing its subtle symptoms and that no pathognomonic—or definitive—indicators exist or point to contamination.  When faced with peculiar symptoms that do not match any one particular disease, lead poisoning should be considered.


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