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Toxic shock


You wouldn’t expect there to be much controversy over the construction of a new Detroit elementary school. But you also wouldn’t expect a school to be built on a contaminated site.

The new Beard Elementary School is being planned for a southwest Detroit site with soil containing arsenic, lead and other contaminants, according to the Detroit Public School’s own documents.

Environmental activist Kathy Milberg says she was dumbfounded by plans to build a school there. She fears that the students could be harmed by the toxic material throughout the 6 1/2 acres.

Pat Thorton is with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’s environmental response division and has been working with DPS’s Program Management Team. The management team is made up of six firms DPS hired to renovate old schools and construct new ones. Thorton says that if DPS caps the Chatfield Street site with a barrier and fresh soil, the toxic material should not reach ground level. She also says that DPS must regularly maintain the barrier.

The school district intends to do exactly that, according to Richard Schleyer, DPS-PMT environmental manager. Schleyer says that 4 inches of crushed concrete will cover the site and will be topped with 8 inches of new soil at a cost of $300,000.

“There is no means or method for the kids to get contaminated,” he says. “It would have to go through the concrete first and to the soil.”

But this does not comfort Milberg, who fears that groundwater will seep through the crushed concrete and raise the toxics to the surface.

“What happens if they test (the soil) and find there are contaminants? Are they going to close the school?” she says.

The school is scheduled to open Sept. 2001. DPS will hold a public meeting about the issue this month.

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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