New test for contaminants planned at school site

July 05, 1992|By Sherrie Ruhl | By Sherrie Ruhl,Staff Writer

Government and school administrators have decided to conduct another test for chemical contaminants at a new school site in Riverside before construction begins.

Soil testing at the site means construction on the elementary school won't begin until at least September, to the dismay of some Riverside parents.

School board president George Lisby vowed last week he'll cnsurc the school opens on time. The school, to be built at Church Creek Road and Riverside Parkway, is scheduled to open in September 1993 with a capacity of 600 students.

Questions about the site arose in February, when a crew drilling there reported becoming ill. Tests conducted by two environmental firms could not determine a reason for the workers' illness. One testing firm said it had found small amounts of toulene. a chemical found in gasoline, at the site but said the touiene shouldn't have made the workers sick.

At a community meeting Monday night, some Riverside residents said further testing is a waste of time.

"We don't need any more testing. We believe the site is clean and we want the school built," said Tony Oleszczuk, a vice president of the board of directors of the Riverside Community Association.

The meeting, attended by about 50 residents, was called so residents could get answers about the testing and when the school would open. Several school and elected officials attended, including County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann, members of thc school board and health and environmental experts.

Pat Benedict. a vice president of the association board, said, "Sometimes it feels like they are going to keep looking and looking until they find something. We don't want to sound like we are jumping the gun or want a school at any price. We want a school that is safe for our children. but how long is the testing and further studies going to be extended?"

Bonner Smith, president of the community association, said he is concerned because the school system promised all necessary testing would be completed in 1989. when the 20.5-acre property was selected for the school site.

Roger C. Niles, assistant superintendent for administrative services for the schools, said a third test was thought pru-dent by a committee that looked into the issue. The results of two previous soil tests showed no reason for concern, Mr. Niles said.

"I wouldn't expect to find anything greater than what we have found already," Mr. NIles said.

Mr. Lisby, the school board president told residents at the meeting that the school board would do everything in its power to open the school by the 1993 deadline, including hiring a construction management team if necessary.

Mr. Lisby said results of the third test should be completed by July 15.

If they prove satisfactory, bids on school construction will be reviewed about Aug. 1, and construction would begin in September, he said.

The quickest an elementary school has been built was the 14 months it took for North Bend Elementary in Jarrettsville, which opened in September, but Mr. Lisby says he's confident the Riverside school can be built and opened on time.

Construction on the Fountain Green Elementary School, scheduled to open in September 1993, began last month.

The third test will take soil samples to a depth of about 25 feet in the area where the toulene was found earlier.

The most recent test, conducted in the spring, tested soil to a depth of four feet at several sites on the property.

Frank Henderson Sr.. deputy director for environmental affairs for the county Department of the Environment, said. "We are looking for a mother lode, if there is one," he said.

Mr. Henderson said he doesn't know the source for the toulene.

He said that if a "hot spot" were discovered, one option would be to remove the contaminated soil. That would require testing soil after the removal.

Mr. Niles, the assistant superintendent, said the Riverside school would include health and safety features, such as a sub-floor ventilation system, recommended by FWA Environmental Associates Inc. hired by the school board to conduct soil tests at the site in April.

Mr. Niles said adding recommended health safety features to the school would cost between $10,000 and $15,000.

He said the FWA test, not including lab fees, cost about $20,000.

He did not have a firm cost on the third test, but said it shouldn't cost more than a "few thousand dollars."

FWA reported finding an elevated level of toulene vapor of 44 parts per billion.

The Occupation Safety and Health Administration's limit is 100 parts per million. The OSHA figure assumes exposure for eight hours a day, five days a week without any any adverse health affects.

E.S. Jack Jackson Jr.. technical director of operations at Environmental Management Group Inc. and a consultant to FWA, said people are commonly exposed to toulene vapor when they pump gasoline into their car.

That exposure is usually at levels approaching OSHA guidelines, he said. The vapor is not carcino-genic.

Mr. Jackson, a certified hazardous materials manager said the F'WA study did not recommend additional testing because the amounts of toulene were low.

The study was unable to find any reason for the illness reported by the two-man drilling crew in February, Mr. Jackson said.

An earlier study by Geo-Technology Associates Inc., hired by Riverside community developer BLC Properties Inc. of Belcamp, was conducted almost immediately after the illness was reported.

That study also could find no reason for the reported illnesses.

Mr. Henderson, of the county Department of the Environment, said he does not believe the site has been contaminated by former "latex lagoons," used from 1972 to 1978 by the Bata Shoe Co. Inc. to dispose of water used to clean manufacturing equipment that made inner soles for shoes at its factory.

The plant is across from the Riverside development on U.S. 40.

The area was cleaned up under state and federal environmental standards, he noted.

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