Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Parents & Scientists: Bloomberg Plans for Toxic Schools Inadequate

In a series of articles in the NY Metro, investigative reporter Patrick Arden has explored Mayor Bloomberg's controversial plans to reclaim toxic sites to build schools. As Arden explains, the plans will not result in a complete clean-up. Instead, complex engineering systems will be required to continuously vent toxic fumes out of contaminated soils and away from children and teachers. One problem is that the Mayor's administration refuses to provide any plan for long term monitoring of these systems. In today's article, Arden quotes two Pace University scientists:

Schlesinger and Cervino noted the ventilation system would have a monitor to ensure it was working. They asked if another monitor could be installed to detect levels of specific chemicals being released from the site.

“Even if the controls are working, we still want a monitor in that school,” Cervino said. “We asked, ‘If it’s not about the money, why wouldn’t you do it?’ They said, ‘Because we’re doing everything within the law.’
The local community board has opposed the construction plans.

In the Bronx, parents and community leaders exasperated with the Administration's refusal to provide a monitoring plan for the Mott Haven schools site have filed a lawsuit. See Metro coverage here and Post here. Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott blasted these concerned parents, calling their actions "unconscionable". Oddly enough, we didn't hear a peep from Walcott when the Daily News reported how School Construction Authority bigwigs had diverted school repair funds into a well-appointed lounge for themselves.


NYC Educator said...

What's unconscionable is not taking every possible step to ensure the safety of our children, including finding school sites that aren't contaminated. If Mr. Bloomberg has such great faith in these sites, let him use them for Yankee Stadium, or a condo development.

Queens Gateway PTA said...

The PTA of Queens Gateway would like to draw everyone’s attention to a flawed process in which science and engineering was misrepresented either innocently or deliberately. First of all, Senator Padavan, Councilman Gennaro and Assemblyman Lancman joined Community Board 8 stating that they are concern about our students yet all of them NEVER contribute not even a dime to the students of Queens Gateway. Not to mention, after contacting Councilman Gennaro about his statement that he had funded a capital plan in all of his school except for Queens Gateway, he visited our school for the first time this school year and lead us to believe that the new school was a done deal. HOW DISAPPOINTING!!!

Queens Gateway to Health Sciences Secondary School is a school of excellence. Over 90% of our students graduate and go unto college. Our students are accepted to prestigious Ivey league universities including the competitive Sophie Davis School of Medicine. Our students are making a positive difference in this society. Queens Gateway provides a safe and clear environment for learning and all because our students take pride in their building. Our school is built on respect for the dignity of every individual and respect for differences. Almost every community would embrace a school like ours.

Queens Gateway is affiliated with Queens Hospital Center. This is an ideal location for our school. Our school prepares students for careers in medicine and health. In other words, our students aspire to be doctors and if they are surrounding by the profession then their dreams would be more of a reality. Having the school on the Queens Hospital site would be beneficial for the students and staffs since our students have to travel to Queens Hospital for their hospital rotations. Our students are allocated 120 minutes per day for hospital rotation of which 30 minutes are used for transportation to and from Queens Hospital Center. Having the school on the hospital grounds would enhance this learning experience by increasing it by half an hour.
The community is proposing another site [Creedmoor] for our school which is farther away from the hospital in comparison to where we are located. Creedmoor provides a continuum of inpatient, outpatient and related psychiatric services with inpatient hospitalization. Would Creedmoor expose the students to all areas of the health and medical careers? Did anyone check that site for toxic?
With 600 students, our children are cramped into a building without adequate space for a gymnasium, no auditorium, no school yard, and one stairway leading from the sublevels to upper levels. We can’t hold assembly for the entire school population because we do not have a room large enough to hold over 250 people. Our student’s don’t even have standing room around the perimeter of the school.

The problem we are having right now is the fact that the community board is taking advice from a source that is not qualified to pronounce on toxic matters. We are indeed taken aback by the absence of diligence in validating this information that was being stated as fact. Our research on Mr. Cervino revealed that he is a PACE University professor with several degrees including a Ph.D. His education is in marine biology and disease pathology. He is NOT a licensed professional engineer and has no training and experience in engineering particularly civil and environmental engineering. Mr. Cervino appears to be an amateur environmental investigator with much enthusiasm and good intentions; however, these attributes does not make one an expert. What are missing are what federal, state, or local protocols and regulatory is guiding Mr. Cervino. He should not take it upon himself to practice engineering in the State of New York without a license. The children of Queens Gateway are our children and we want them to be safe. We are willing to join forces with everyone to ensure that all environmental concerns are satisfactorily addressed. It is our children and we are more concerned than Community Board 8. We would like to charge Padavan, Gennaro, and Lancman to request a hearing with the environmental scientists and engineers of the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation and the health professionals from the NYS Department of Health. The Community Board 8 concerns regarding the impact on traffic can be easily resolved by inviting the NYCDOT to the table. Transportation concerns can be handled through the NYCT Bus Planning Group through NYCT Governmental and Community Affairs. Based on everything we have heard, we did not see any concerted effort made to engage the entities referred to above. We would gladly join all the parties in lobbying for these meetings to take place so that we can replace rumors and misunderstanding with facts.

Our parents were very emotional to hear that the community is voting against the new school to protect our children. However, we would like Community Board 8, Padavan, Gennaro, and Lancman to remember, we are much more concerned about our children's health and safety than they are. This should not be a power struggle just one that is RIGHT FOR THE CHILDREN. If this ground is not environmentally safe for our children then it is not safe for the patients stating or visiting the hospital, employees of the hospital and last, but not least, the people who lives in the community.

We have entrusted the DoE to keep our children safe and to educationally prepare them for the future. We don’t think they would be that crazy to jeopardize our student’s life. We believe all the necessary precautions will be put in place and this will be a win-win situation for Queens Gateway to Health Sciences Secondary School, Queen Hospital Center, and the Community since the environment will be CLEANED.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the Queens Gateway PTA. With regard to the CB-8 using a marine biologist and disease pathologist to advise it on an evironmental engineering matters; it would be as if my wife has a bad heart and I chose to seek her treatment by the mailman or the dentist. Anyone with brain know that they would consult a board-certified physician with the appropriate education, training and experience in the related fields of cardiology. I hope this not how Padavan, Gennaro and Lanceman makes decisions on behalf of the people. Talk about incompetence. SHAME ON YOU GUYS. By the way, was the PACE professor paid with tax-payers money?

Anonymous said...

Hurray Queens Gateway for being able to see through the smokescreen. I am sure you guys have figured out what is the real issue here. However, I rather not be drawn in to that one but I would encourage you guys to report the PACE Professor to the Office of the Professions of the New York State Education Department. He should not be practicing engineering without a license. Jeez, I would not go to an unlicensed dentist for treatment or advice. Would someone tell me how come no one is paying heed to New York State Heath Department and the New York State Environmental Department of Health? Aren’t they our experts on this matter? Maybe Queens Gateway should hold their own hearing on this matter and invite the real experts to discuss the risks posed to their children. In parting, I would advise all parties to see the courtroom scenes on ‘A Miracle on 34th Street’ for a lesson on choosing qualified experts.

Anonymous said...

Wow, Queens Gateway PTA -- I hope your students are not as irresponsible as you are. I've been studying the issue of contaminated land in NYC, and so has Michael Bloomberg. In his 2030 plan, he says he will clean brownfields, and that's good. What he doesn't say, of course, is how he's going to pay for it. He will pay for it by building projects that qualify for government funds, like schools and parks. What he doesn't say is he will use CFE state capital funds to clean up brownfileds and put schools there.

James Cervino is a pathologist as well as a marine biologist -- he studies the effects of pollutants on cells. He has been involved in other contaminated sites in Queens, particularly in College Point. Dr. Schlesinger is also the real thing -- there are few in the world more qualified to talk about this issue.

Quit your bellyaching -- these people are powerless. the real power is Mayor Bloomberg, and he'll do what he wants, just like he did in Mott Haven.

Creedmoor is 10 minutes away, and it's not toxic, which is why it's being proposed. But like I said, it will make no difference. Hold onto your hats, parents, because you'll be seeing the city building more schools on toxic sites -- because they're favoring them.

Patrick Sullivan said...

A couple of points in response to Queens Gateway PTA.

First, the DoE (BoE) has previously put children in harms way. PS 141 in Harlem was placed in a former dry cleaning facility. Months later, when test results showed harmful toxins in the air, the children were evacuated.

Second, the morgue site is not going to be "CLEANED" as you say. The contaminants will be CONTAINED in the soil and various devices -- barriers and venting systems -- will be used to keep the toxins away from your kids. Will they work? Who knows. Parents in the Bronx are suing because the City has not planned sufficiently to make sure these systems will work. They're your kids and if you want to take the risk, then your viewpoint is certainly important. My point is that you should not be forced to choose between overcrowded schools and schools on toxic sites. The Mayor should give you a better alternative.

Finally, Assemblyman Lancman has certainly worked hard to get more money for Queens kids, including yours. He introduced a bill in the State Assembly that said the City had to devote 25% of new state money to reducing class sizes and overcrowding. The new state law is not as strong as his bill but it will still require the city to address these problems. And it probably would not have happened without him.

Queens Gateway PTA said...

We are not irresponsible parents. We are RISK MANAGERS. After Columbine, we did not home-school our children. After 9/11, Madrid, and London terrorist attacks, we and our children did not begin traveling by foot and we did not become prisoners of our homes. Take a look: we took our teachers and children to the Hillcrest Jewish Center twice without the fear of a terrorist attack. We are assured that lessons were learned and that law enforcement has stepped up their game. Can we rule out future incidents? Absolutely not.

The same applies to environmental clean –up. It is rare that pristine conditions are restored before resumption of the use of properties and/or resources. Usually, the strategy is to reduce to the contamination to a level where it no longer poses a threat. Alternatively, the contamination is reduced to the greatest extent possible and the residual contamination managed through engineering controls such as vapor barriers and venting. The approach is similar to that taken by toxicologists, epidemiologists and law enforcement. The SOURCE-PATHWAY-RECEPTOR-DOSE model is developed and plans of action are developed to significantly limit and/or eliminate one of the links in the chain. By the way, do mistakes occur? Yes! Do we learn from them? Yes!

Here are two common risks that are managed all the time: A trip to the gas station exposes everyone to gasoline constituents (including toluene) several of which are toxic; Formaldehyde is present in our homes in some types of insulation, upholstery, cosmetics, carpets, curtains, paper coatings and the adhesives used to make plywood and particle board. Using an approved respirator APPROPRIATELY in the foregoing locations will reduce exposure by about 95-99% - not 100%. Does anyone go to gas station or walk around their homes in a respirator? No! The risk is managed through dilution with the ambient air, air changes, standing up-wind of the gas nozzle, etc. The foregoing examples used contain all or some of the chemicals that are present at the proposed school site.

Patrick Sullivan said...

Queens Gateway PTA,

Do you have something, like a PTA resolution or note from the PTA president, saying the parents support locating the school on the site? If you can send me something more than an anonymous comment, then I will update the original post to reflect your viewpoint.


Queens Gateway PTA said...

Who are you? What is your connection with CB8 and the new Gateway building?

Rest assure that you are communicating with Queens Gateway PTA. Our stance is clear. There is no need to reiterate our statement.