More Island Trees Board Members Demand Action on Lead in School

Last month, Senator Charles Schumer—Democrat-New York—asked the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to “perform a thorough inspection of <"">lead contamination at Island Trees High School in Levittown, New York.”  School board trustee, Joseph Buda received lead contamination test results revealing high lead levels of 2,980 parts per million (ppm), drastically higher than the EPA standard of 400 ppm.

Two board members—Patricia Mahon and Kenneth Rochon—joined Buda in demanding an emergency meeting last night to discuss lead contamination at the school.  Peter Scully, Department of Environmental Conservation’s (DEC) Long Island regional director, said working with the district has been a “challenge.”

Island Trees superintendent James Parla said, “We did everything we were asked to do.”

Buda and resident Brian Kelty have been fighting to close the school until the vent system is cleaned and tested.  Board president Peter Ray said he has a business to run and couldn’t make the meeting adding that, “We already talked to everybody at the meeting on August 28th and everyone said the building was safe.  We already said we were going to do cleaning and testing for the rest of the year.”  Board member Carl Bonsignore told Newsday, “We’re all busy with other things. I don’t understand why this is any of your business.”  Buda and Kelty had legal papers served on three board members asking they be removed from the board over their mishandling of the issue.

In 1999, when an indoor rifle range was dismantled, sand containing rifle casings was removed to a tunnel, and the range was converted to an art room.  In 2003, state health officials discovered lead levels in the basement at six times the recommended level.  The EPA was notified.  In 2004, county health officials tested for lead; the district hired a company to clean the wrestling room, robotics shop, and basement hallways; and the superintendent alerted custodians and maintenance workers they might want to test for lead poisoning.  The state DEC cited the district for improper removal of contaminated soil and asked the district for a plan to encapsulate the areas.  In 2005, the athletic equipment plus storage, wrestling, and robotics rooms were cleaned, the county health department recommended testing occur every six months, and the areas were re-cleaned.  In 2006, the superintendent notified parents of a summer clean up and the affected areas were re-cleaned.  Despite the clean-ups, a DEC memo described the district-commissioned evaluation of the HVAC system inadequate.  Affected areas and ducts were cleaned and retested; the DEC suggested cleaning inside ducts; health officials approved.  Now, the district is registered as a contaminated site and current testing reveals high lead levels on top of the stage prop room duct and in roof vents.  The state education department directed the district to assess the HVAC system; tests indicate high lead levels in the duct leading to the elevator shaft and tunnel soil. 

Last month, more cleaning was performed in basement.

Recent reports state the district failed to take precautions following a 2006 cleanup to prevent lead dust from entering air vents.  This April, high lead levels were found in eight exhaust vents; however, the state health department said those vents didn’t require cleaning as they vented air outside.  Last week, health officials said lead released from those vents “could also be tracked from outside into the school.”

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