STUYVESANT HIGH SCHOOL PARENTS' ASSOCIATION
345 Chambers Street
New York, NY 10282-1099
(212) 312-4800 · www.stuypa.org
PA Hotline: (212) 312-4838
Testimony of Marilena Christodoulou
President, Stuyvesant High School Parents’ Association
U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works
Subcommittee on Clean Air, Wetlands, and Climate Change
February 11, 2002
On behalf of the six thousand parents at Stuyvesant High School, I want to thank you for holding this hearing on a matter of great concern to our community.
Stuyvesant High School is an academically excellent school for which each student must take a competitive examination in order to gain admission. Approximately 20,000 students take the Specialized Science High Schools’ entrance examination for the 750 available spaces at the school. It is the most competitive school in the New York City public school system and arguably in the country.
The school, located four blocks north of the World Trade Center, was heavily impacted by the events of September 11. The 3,000 students and 200 staff members were evacuated in the middle of a cloud of toxic dust and debris as the second tower was collapsing. Almost immediately, the school building was commandeered for use by rescue and recovery agencies and personnel.
The Board of Education (BOE) reopened the school on October 9th. We were the first school in the Ground Zero area to return to its building. Some of the remaining six schools have only returned last week and one school, PS 89, has initiated legal proceedings against the BOE seeking an injunction against the return. The goal of our Parents’ Association (PA) has been to ensure that the return to Stuyvesant would occur only when the streets were safe for walking and the building was safe for occupancy. Our single most important concern is the issue of air quality—both inside and outside the school—specifically, the possible presence of airborne contaminants and related potential adverse health effects. Unfortunately, it is my opinion that the return to Stuyvesant was premature and that environmental conditions in and around the school continue to pose a potential threat to our children’s health and well-being.
As the inside of the school tested positive for asbestos, the BOE conducted an asbestos abatement prior to reoccupancy. We were encouraged by the fact that the BOE’s cleanup should have taken care of not only asbestos, but also all other particulate contaminants. In addition, as a result of negotiations with the PA, the BOE agreed to undertake environmental sampling inside and outside the school (which continues to this day). Results are reviewed by H.A. Bader Consultants, Inc., the PA’s hired environmental engineers, and by the PA Environmental Health & Safety Committee. The excavation operations and the few remaining fires at Ground Zero continue to release a variety of contaminants into the lower Manhattan air. These contaminants, all of which are associated with potential adverse health effects, include asbestos, lead, crystalline silica, dioxins, carbon monoxide, diesel and gasoline exhaust, PCB’s, heavy metals, and benzene and other volatile organic compounds. In addition, several hundred trucks a day carry pulverized debris and steel girders coated with remnants of asbestos fireproofing from Ground Zero past Stuyvesant to the waste transfer barge operation located immediately adjacent to the north side of the school on Pier 25. This is the main debris removal operation from Ground Zero. Additional contaminants are released into the air as loads are transferred from trucks to barges. Diesel emissions from the many trucks and cranes at the barge are another source of contaminants.
Our experience since returning to school has been and continues to be problematic. Our children are getting sick. We are also concerned about the possible delayed health effects (like cancer) 10-20 years from now from exposure to the chemicals in the air.
Contaminants Are Entering the School
Our goal is to prevent contaminants in the outdoor environment from entering the school and affecting our children. The primary route of outdoor contaminants into the school (assuming windows and doors are kept closed) is through the ventilation system. The main defense against contaminants is the filtration in the ventilation system. To date, the BOE has failed to take adequate measures to protect our children. Despite repeated requests from the PA, the BOE still has not cleaned the ductwork of the ventilation systems. After months of stalling, the BOE finally upgraded the filters at the end of January. Although these replacement filters provide an improvement in efficiency, they still do not provide adequate protection, according to evaluations by two independent professional ventilation engineers working with the PA.
Results from environmental sampling conducted by the BOE demonstrate that, on more than 50% of the days from October 9, when our children returned to school, to February 1, measurements of respirable particulate matter (PM 2.5) inside the school have exceeded EPA guidelines for children. These particulates may pose a greater danger because they may contain a mixture of toxins. Levels of lead dust in excess of regulatory limits were found inside Stuyvesant on several occasions in December, January, and February.
The Barge Operation is a Main Source of Contaminants
It is clear that the close proximity of the barge to the school is putting our children at a greater risk of exposure to toxic contaminants. The PA’s environmental engineer has measured and compared airborne concentrations of particulate matter at Ground Zero and on the north side of the Stuyvesant building, and found the particular matter to be higher at Stuyvesant. As the north side of the school faces away from Ground Zero and towards the barge operation, the only reasonable explanation is that we have elevated levels of particulates coming from the barge/truck operation. The PA expert also reports that levels of particulate matter at Stuyvesant have consistently been double the levels at Barclay Street, one block from Ground Zero.
On several occasions, the EPA notified the PA that, weeks earlier, it had monitored high levels of certain contaminants in outdoor air at its monitoring station, between the school and the barge, in excess of EPA regulatory limits. These contaminants included asbestos, tetrachloroethane, and isocyanate. Unfortunately, the EPA has not been monitoring the latter contaminants on a regular basis nor is it monitoring and disclosing the full array of possible contaminants. Further, there is no system in place for proactive notification of the residents, workers, and students in the area to enable them to take protective measures (like staying at home) on days when levels of contaminants in the air are high. Carting of the Ground Zero debris material to the barge constitutes an unacceptable risk to our children and to the surrounding community along the truck route. We are in the unique position to observe the truck and barge operation, and we can report to you that, despite assurances from government officials, the trucks are not always adequately covered; on cold days the debris cannot be hosed down to prevent the release of dust; and the levels of visible dust in the air and on the pavement are high.
To date, government agencies have been unwilling to either relocate the barge operation to a less damaging site or to take effective measures to protect the community. There was discussion to containerize the debris at Ground Zero prior to trucking them to the barge; to install particulate traps by the barge; and to use low-sulfur fuel for the trucks and the cranes. To date, none of these measures has been implemented.
Even simple measures such as halting barge operation on below-freezing non-hose down days, rerouting trucks from Pier 25 to Pier 6 during the hours when school children are outdoors, and directing trucks hauling loads with high dust content to Pier 6, have not been implemented.
There are 4,500 school children, some as young as 4 years old, within two blocks of this barge operation. We are at a loss to understand how the Government could locate a toxic dump right next to a school in the middle of a residential community. The BOE has taken no effective action to have the barge relocated, or to ensure its operation in an environmentally safe manner.
In summary, our children are exposed to three sources of contaminants: the air inside the school, the toxic composition of the Ground Zero debris trucked and dumped at the barge, and the diesel emissions and combustion byproducts generated by the trucks and the cranes.
Incidence of Illness Among Students and Staff
Since the return to school on October 9th, a number of students and faculty have reported and exhibited clinically diagnosable symptoms of illness. Many parents report that their children have experienced unusual rashes, nosebleeds, coughing attacks, and chronic sinus and respiratory problems, including new onset asthma and chemical bronchitis. Parents have reported to us several emergency room visits. It has been reported that several custodians have chemical bronchitis. Since the return to Stuyvesant on October 9 through December 14, at least eleven students have left the school due to air quality problems. These students, who will not be allowed to return by the BOE, have chosen to leave one of the most prestigious public high schools in the nation, and to forfeit a public educational opportunity that essentially cannot be replaced.
Several faculty members have left or taken sabbaticals for health reasons or medical concerns. The teachers’ union has filed a grievance over environmental conditions at the school. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (“NIOSH”), a branch of the Centers for Disease Control, has begun an investigation of environmental conditions and health effects among teachers at Stuyvesant (and other lower Manhattan locations). However, NIOSH can only investigate the health impact on workers and has no jurisdiction to conduct an evaluation of our children. Neither the BOE nor the NYC Department of Health have conducted an epidemiological study of the students. The incidence of student illness cannot be adequately characterized based only on attendance rates and visits to the school nurse’s office.
Stuyvesant’s student population is very diverse. Many of our students come from first and second generation non-English speaking immigrant families. We are concerned that many of these families do not have the wherewithal to seek early medical care. Dr. Stephen Levin, of the Mt. Sinai Selikoff Center for Occupational and Environmental Medicine, has advised us that early detection and treatment of respiratory illness is critical in terms of preventing such illness from becoming chronic. (I would like to take this opportunity to thank Dr. Levin for his help during this period).
In conclusion, these developments call into question any unequivocal assurances from government agencies, including the EPA and the BOE, about the health and safety of our children.
The following courses of action should be implemented to protect environmental quality and public health:
A. Barge Operation: The truck/barge operation on Pier 25 should be relocated to an area where there is less residential and educational impact.
B. Ventilation Protocols: The Government should immediately issue protocols for proper preventive measures to be taken by schools and other institutions in the area with regard to installation of protective air filtration and cleaning and operation of ventilation systems.
C. Cleaning of Buildings and Enclosed Structures: The Government should mandate regular proper cleaning (i.e., wet-cleaning and HEPA-vacuum) of building interiors and other enclosed structures in the area, including foot-bridges such as the one outside Stuyvesant.
D. Cleaning of Streets and Sidewalks: The Department of Sanitation, as well as entities such as the Battery Park City Authority, should be required to regularly wet-clean the streets and sidewalks in the area, as it is necessary for dust suppression.
E. Environmental Monitoring and Notification: The Government should take action to ensure complete environmental testing, both indoor and outdoor; full and timely disclosure of results; and immediate and full notification of elevated levels of contaminants to residents, workers, and students in lower Manhattan.
F. Monitoring of Incidence of Illness and Medical Coverage: The Government should assume responsibility for implementing a centralized and coordinated effort to monitor and track incidence of illness among residents, workers, and students in the area. A central registry of all residents, workers, and students who have been exposed to contaminants as a result of the September 11 attacks should be established. The Government should assume responsibility for early detection and medical treatment of illness related to the World Trade Center disaster. Also, in my opinion, a dedicated fund should be established to pay for medical costs associated with any future health problems of registered individuals as a result of WTC chemical exposure.
Thank you for the opportunity to address you today.