Statement of Bernard Orlan
U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee
New York City, New York
February 11, 2002
Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Voinovich and Senator Clinton, I am happy to appear before you on behalf of Chancellor Harold O. Levy and the New York City Board of Education. We appreciate this opportunity to speak about how the events of September 11th affected public schools in the area of the World Trade Center.
My name is Bernie Orlan and I am Director of Environmental Health and Safety for the New York City Board of Education.
As you know, last September 11th, we were forced to evacuate a number of schools in the downtown area. While this has been noted numerous times, it is worth pointing out again that this evacuation was accomplished without a single injury either to a teacher or a child. Teachers and other staff kept their charges safe. Indeed throughout the system, teachers, principals, assistant principals and support staff worked tirelessly to get children home safely and in the aftermath of that day have helped our students get back to the business of learning.
In the days following the disaster, many of our school buildings were used by various agencies including FEMA and the citys Office of Emergency Management for rescue and ultimately, recovery operations. Other school facilities were used by the Red Cross as emergency shelters. Once permission was granted by the city to normalize activity from 14th street to Canal Street and areas east of Broadway, schools in this area were tested for particulate dust, asbestos and other compounds including carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide. We also established baseline levels for general air quality. The results of these and other tests verified that the buildings were safe for children and staff to return.
This left us with seven schools contained in six buildings that could not immediately be reoccupied. These included two high schools south of ground zero and one high school, one intermediate school and three elementary schools north of Chambers Street, which is north of ground zero. In all, more than 5,000 students were displaced.
Four schools were being used by emergency workers and agencies. Once these buildings were turned back to the Board of Education jurisdiction, we began exhaustive environmental testing, beginning with tests for asbestos debris. Very little of this was found. Nonetheless, the decision was made to clean each school as if it were contaminated. Following the strict AHERA protocol designed by independent monitors certified by both NYS Dept of Labor and the US Environmental Protection Agency, teams of approved asbestos abatement handlers began a top-to-bottom cleaning, first by HEPA-vacuuming and wet wiping the buildings. Following the cleaning, the buildings were retested and found to be clear of contaminants that would have come from the collapse of the World Trade Center.
Just as the teachers and staff safeguarded the children as they ran from their schools, it is our duty to safeguard them on their return.
Before the schools could reopen, a battery of environmental testing was performed in and around each school. These included wipe and air sampling for asbestos, respirable particulate concentrations, mercury, PCBs, silica, fiberglass, hydrocarbons, dioxins, metal and cyanides. I have provided a summary of these test results as an addendum to these remarks. For the record, in and around the schools, we have not found any of these materials in any concentration known to be hazardous. While we expect to find background levels of some of these materials in the air in particular respirable dust since mid-December when the long-burning fires were extinguished, in daily tests, we found all of these tests to show these contaminants to be absent or on rare occasion, present in quantities that measure for the most part below conservative safety guidelines.
At this point, only PS 89 which shares a building with IS 89 and the High School for Economics and Finance, have yet to return to their buildings. With the return to their home sites, we take a three-pronged approach to safeguarding the physical health of our staff and students. At every school, we perform more than 100 separate air tests a day. We are also sampling over 24 hour periods, in order to collect and examine all particulates and we continue to provide periodic environmental surveillance for the contaminants of concern. Barrier mats at school entrances help prevent people from tracking debris into the school. All ventilation systems were inspected and upgraded to enhance their efficiency to capture the finer dust particles. In addition, medical and metal hygiene staff are located at each school to provide assistance and documentation as necessary.
In conclusion, we have done everything we can do to ensure that our students are learning and our teachers are teaching in a clean and secure environment. We will continue to monitor their environment and will continue to share all the information we collect with parents, their environmental consultants, the unions and the public. We will continue to work diligently and tirelessly for the health and safety of our community so that they can continue to focus on our overall mission of teaching and learning.
I am happy to take your questions.