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Toxic school?


Toxic school? — Parents are P.O.’d. And for good reason. The Detroit Public Schools is building a new elementary school on arsenic-laced soil, and parents are unswayed by promised safety measures. They also are waiting for state health reports that will better determine if the land is hazardous to their children’s health.

About 30 parents and community supporters attended a meeting with the DPS last week to talk about the contaminated site on the city’s southwest side where the new Beard Elementary School is under construction. The site, was polluted with toxic material, including arsenic, cadmium and PCBs. Most of the contamination was eliminated, explained Rich Schleyer, environmental manager for the DPS program management team, which oversees school construction.

“The only remaining contaminant of concern is arsenic,” he said.

To prevent exposure, the DPS plans to place 4-to-8 inches of crushed concrete throughout the school yard and soccer field; the concrete will be covered with 4 inches of soil.

But this was little comfort to some parents who vowed that their children would not attend the new school.

“A building can be rebuilt … but our children cannot be restored,” said one parent. “Why are you going through with these plans if it’s not clean?”

Some parents asked about the eight construction workers who developed rashes after working on the site last winter.

“Something doesn’t sound right if the men have rashes,” said one woman.

Schleyer said that the school district is still waiting for the Michigan Industrial Occupational Safety and Health Administration to determine if the rashes were caused by the soil.

Pat Thornton is with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’s environmental response division and has been advising the DPS on how to clean up the site. Thornton requested that the Department of Community Health test the soil to determine whether the site is a health hazard. That report hasn’t been completed.

But will the DPS open the school next fall before the health reports are issued?.

“Unless the state approves the site, the school doesn’t open,” said Carlos Lopez, DPS executive director for student achievement at Beard and nine other schools.

Ann Mullen contributed to News Hits, which is edited by Curt Guyette. He can be reached at 313-202-8004 or

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