Air and water near Holmes to be tested

By T.J. PIGNATARO

News Staff Reporter

1/16/2003

The Kenmore-Town of Tonawanda School District plans to begin soil and air testing this year on the site of Holmes Elementary School.

The decision to test the Dupont Avenue school property was sparked by residents' concerns over its proximity to radioactive contamination buried at the former Linde Division of Union Carbide site, which is now Praxair.

"Our goal is to do a thorough testing of the area with both air samples and ground samples to make sure the area there is healthy for everyone," said Steven Achramovitch, Ken-Ton superintendent.

The area has become a focus over the last year since the state Department of Health found that cancer incidences are about 10 percent higher than normal in the 14217 and 14150 ZIP codes. Now health officials are narrowing their study to include the neighborhood around Holmes School.

That, combined with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' recent call to demolish Building 14 at the Praxair site, which was found to be contaminated with radiation, has piqued school officials' interest in surveying the grounds at Holmes.

The district is considering four contractors' options for studying the property, according to Achramovitch. From there, school officials will select one method and begin the study. Achramovitch wouldn't disclose the specifics of those options.

"All of the options will be comprehensive options. It will come down to a choice of who the district feels is the most credible and reliable group to go with," Achramovitch said.

"I want to move as quickly as possible, but I also want to make sure as we are moving through the testing phase that we are doing what needs to be done."

After the district selects an action plan, it will be presented to the public. District officials plan to discuss what the study will entail as well as where and how it will be completed.

Holmes Elementary was built in 1964 after the school district acquired the property from the Town of Tonawanda. Although the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has done air testing on site since 1999 and the district also tested for radon at Holmes, no on-site soil studies have been done.

"I can't answer why this wasn't done before. I wasn't around then," said Donette Darrow, Ken-Ton School Board president. "We want to make sure the children and employees are in a safe environment. The testing to us is very important just to make sure everything is OK there. If by chance there is something there, we'll have to deal with that."

Achramovitch said school officials have a plan if the worst-case scenario - contamination found on the school grounds - is realized. Staff and students of the school would be relocated to the Sheridan Building at 3200 Elmwood Ave.

Meanwhile, officials say the focus will be on using the upcoming studies to prove that occupying the school does not risk people's health.

"We feel confident the area is safe. We want a confirmation of that so it puts our faculty, students, staff and neighborhood at ease," Achramovitch said.

Corps officials believe that to be the case. Their air monitoring devices installed on the roof of Holmes suggest that there are nearly no airborne radionucleotides.

"The readings we're getting there are hardly anything at all. It's almost too small to even report," said Ray Pilon, project manager for the Corps.

Corps figures indicate the calculated dose to the public is about 0.1 millirem per year, or about one one-thousandth of the threshold legal limit set by the federal government, said Craig Rieman, the Corps' chief of environmental health.

Nevertheless, despite the assurances, school officials expect there will be communitywide anxiety as it begins its testing process in coming months.

"There are going to be concerns. Parents are going to be concerned. We are doing the very best we can do. We can't account for what happened before. If something happened when it was Linde, we had nothing to do with that," Darrow said.

"We as a school board are trying to come up with the very best comprehensive testing to make sure everyone in the building is safe."

e-mail: tpignataro@buffnews.com

Copyright 1999 - 2003 - The Buffalo News

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COMMENTS:

* FACTS and some local residents have wondered for quite some time as to why the school was built at this location to begin with. We never have been able to find out.

* Several years ago, I was contacted by a concerned mother of Holmes students. She was concerned about the respiratory problems that many of the students were suffering from (including her three children).

* Also, there was a teacher at Holmes who had the same concerns. But, no one wanted to come forward.

* Try as I may, I couldn't get parents together to find out the details on this situation.

NOTE: I'm not using the names of those concerned because I don't have their permission. Therefore, I respect their privacy.

EXCERPT:

..."It will come down to a choice of who the district feels is the most credible and reliable group to go with," Achramovitch said. "...

FACTS certainly hopes that they go with an independent source as versus one of the BBB (Big Brother Bureaucracies). If they don't, we already know what the results will be - - No real problem; no immediate threat, etc., ad infinitum. (This is based on past experiences with the BBB.)

Don

Don Finch

------------------------

Researcher, Editor & Co Webmaster FACTSOFWNY

F.A.C.T.S. (For A Clean Tonawanda Site), Inc.

Tonawanda, N.Y. & Manhattan Project (World's 1st Atomic Bombs)

Web site: http://www.factsofwny.org

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