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Former P.S. 51 site to undergo enviormental cleanup

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The saga of TCE contamination at the former site of P.S. 51 may be coming to an end, at least for the building. But the concerns of parents may go on indefinitely.

The Department of Education has ended its lease on the former site of P.S. 51 at 3200 Jerome Avenue, said DOE spokeswoman Margie Feinberg. The building’s owner, the Rinzler Family Limited Partnership, has filed an application for environmental remediation with the Department of Environmental Conservation’s Brownfield Cleanup Program, according to a DEC public notice.

The site was formerly the Nessen Lamp Factory, and leased by the DOE from the early 1990s until August 2011. P.S. 51 was moved after testing showed there was TCE contamination at the location.

Current and former parents who are members of the group P.S. 51 Parents United said that while they were glad environmental remediation is happening, their concerns about the long-term effects TCE exposure may have on their children have not diminished.

“The unfortunate thing is that it is being done after all this time, and there wasn’t mandatory testing so that this exposure would not have happened in the first place,” said former P.S. 51 parent Kelly King Lewis. “I am glad that they are doing remediation, but it is a lot too late.”

There is a residential building abutting the property, and there is no way of knowing how the toxins that were found in the building could effect the surrounding properties, King Lewis said.

Contamination testing at the school site, which occurred in January 2011, should have occurred much sooner because many students reported illnesses to parents that could be linked to TCE exposure, King Lewis stated.

“In the 1990s, when the school opened, many of the environmental regulations would not have been as stringent,” King Lewis stated. “But there should have been something in place at the DOE to make sure nothing harmed any inhabitant of the building, especially with a former industrial use. We waited until 2011 to test, and I am sure that state standards were put in place regarding this in the last ten years at least.”

P.S. 51 Parents United is still seeking to have a meeting with Chancellor Dennis Walcott, but so far he has met with the principal and members of the Parent Association, King Lewis stated.

“Someone at the DOE made decisions on behalf of my child, other people’s children, and also employees,” King Lewis said. “It is unfortunate that our health and welfare, and those of the people working at the school, was not a great enough of a reason for them to say that we need to stop and correct this right away.”

Former parent Alan Gary said that the parents are requesting medical monitoring of children exposed, a registry for all who attended classes in the building, and closing of a “leasing loophole” which allowed for less scrutiny in terms of environmental soundness in leased properties as opposed to DOE-owned properties, Gary said.

“When my son tells me he has a stomach ache, I used to think it must have been something that he ate,” Gary said. “Now the worst thing possible comes into the parents’ minds.”

Now that the building is back in private hands, it will be necessary for the owner to determine how the environmental remediation will occur, said Community Board 7 district manager Fernando Tirado.

“To the best of my knowledge, everything is contained in the building,” Tirado said. “I have seen the DEC report [...] nothing I saw said the building was a danger to the surrounding area.”

The DEC’s public comment period on the application takes place through Friday, February 3.

Patrick Rocchio can be reach via e-mail at procchio@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 742-3393

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