Somerville School Toxins Compared to Post 9/11 World Trade Center

By: Kristen Ross Email
By: Kristen Ross Email

More light is shed on toxin test results of Somerville schools through a report released Friday.

For more than a week school officials have been reluctant to release details about an independent study they commissioned, and have simply stated the schools appear to be safe.

"As advised by counsel, I will not take questions at this time," Somerville Superintendent Charles Camarillo said in a meeting last week.

"I think the people just want to find out what's going on," Somerville Resident Pete Negrete said.

Many questions were left unanswered by the Somerville school district after the results came back from an independent toxins study.

Researchers with the School of Rural Public Health want to clear up any confusion about their findings.

They say contaminant levels found on school floors and attic dust in Somerville school facilities present only a minimal risk to children and staff with short term exposure. Some of things they tested for include: Arsenic,Chromium,Copper, TPH, and PAHs.

"Where we looked at the floor dust samples, the custodial staff does a good job and keeps those clean, we see relatively low levels. When we went up into the attic or behind the stage where people don't usually go, we saw higher levels," Dr. K.C. Donnelly with the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health at the School of Rural Public Health said.

Donnelly says the attic dust is more a representation of historical contamination, whereas the floor areas target ongoing exposures.

Those same researchers say their study does not provide sufficient information to estimate long term risks for students or staff exposed to those chemicals.

In the School of Rural Public Health's study, obtained by News 3 through an open records request, researchers compared concentrations of contaminants, such as metals, found from dust in apartments near the World Trade Center site.

The report states that places such as the elementary school gym attic contained higher concentrations of metals when compared to the average World Trade Center concentrations. This is also where the highest concentration of dioxins were found, which were said to exceed the concentrations seen at the World Trade Center collapse.

The elementary school cafeteria attic, according to the report, also contained the highest concentrations of chromium and copper among all the samples taken, and the concentrations "well exceeded the maximum concentrations seen at the World Trade Center".

PAHs were found in all the samples. Donnelly says the results from the initial sampling found the chemical present at the highest concentration in dioxin (PCDD) mixtures was octachlorodibenzodioxin. He says this chemical is generally associated with chemicals from industries using pentachlorophenol.

It's important to note that the highest findings of chemical presence were in the attics of the Somerville ISD buildings, not in the areas heavily trafficked by students.

However, Donnelly says many of the chemicals detected in the dust are considered to be known carcinogens.

"The fact that we saw those, they are in a location where they could get into the classroom, they certainly could get into the duct work and breathing air for the children," Donnelly said.

When asked if he believes the schools are safe, Donnelly said, "I think the schools are safe for March, April, and May. I think there is a need to do some type of remediation in the attic and the duct work to reduce the potential for future exposure."

Donnelly and his colleagues say they took samples from the elementary school, junior high and Behavior Management Center.

Samples were not taken at the high school, however, because its floors had just been waxed.

"I think the other issue that needs to be addressed is if we are seeing these levels in the schools, they are likely also to be in yards and in houses," Donnelly said.

In addition, Donnelly recommended future sampling be conducted at the schools after the clean-up of the attics and duct systems is complete.

The school first decided to conduct the study, surrounding allegations from several residents in the town that the city's tie plant was putting off the harmful toxins.

Experts from both sides of those cases were quick to weigh in on A&M’s findings.

“What we found was that their results were very consistent with ours, and there are no chemical levels present in the Somerville schools that are at or above health guidelines,” Dr. Phillip Goad, a toxicologist commissioned by BNSF and Koppers said.

“The only difference is we did the testing inside the schools, as did the A&M study, they also did attics which we did not do,” Goad said. “But the findings in the schools are very consistent.”

“We conducted samplings in a number of homes in the Somerville community,” Goad said. “We also looked at the six different locations in the Somerville schools, and took eight samples inside the Somerville schools,” Goad said.

Goad says he believes the A&M study supports his belief that the schools are safe.

“We haven’t fully had a chance to look at it, but I think the results of this are consistent with our findings which show there really hasn’t been an impact to the people of Somerville.”

Attorney Jared Woodfill, who is representing many Somerville residents with litigation against the tie plant, also believes the A&M findings support his position that hazardous chemicals are present within the schools.

“It’s really consistent with what we found,” Attorney Jared Woodfill said. “We went up into the attics of a large number of homes in Somerville and looked for traces of chemicals,” Woodfill said. “We looked for PAHs, we looked for Dioxins, we looked for Chromium and Arsenic, and those are chemicals we found in very high concentrations.”

“If you go up into the attic what you are finding is evidence of chronic or long term exposure, it’s really a laboratory for contamination that is coming in through the air for many years,” Woodfill said. “When you go and look at the floor, it’s not really as telling, because it is cleaned daily or weekly,” Woodfill said.

“I think it is time the city of Somerville deal with the problem,” Woodfill said.

Somerville ISD Superintendent Charles Camarillo originally agreed on Wednesday to sit down and talk to News 3, but Friday morning declined to comment.


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