“I think I might take my daughter to another school,” said an anxious parent a couple of days after a gas leak at Information Technology High School.
The school was evacuated last Wednesday, December 13, for a couple of hours after a gas leak was discovered in a water heater. Twenty people were sent to the hospital for possible carbon monoxide poisoning following what was described as a “chaotic evacuation.”
“It was just a malfunction in the water heater and the leak was repaired overnight,” commented a spokesperson from the Department of Education. “Parents were notified by Wednesday evening and students were relocated to a different school for the following day. We are not worried about this.”
To some however, this incident seemed like just another in a long list of problems at the school.
Info Tech High School appeared in the headlines in September following a report aired on Fox News that revealed that the school was built over the former site of a metal plating factory. Since then, parents and community members have been worried about student safety in the presence of lingering contaminants.
“When it comes to a gas leak, you just get out,” said Zoe Epstein, Chief of Staff for Councilmember Eric Gioia. “Evacuation was chaotic. Especially for a school that is on toxic land, evacuation needs to be executed quickly.”
Gioia has been working to stay in touch with the Department of Education (DOE) to make sure that standard air quality and toxin tests implemented by the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) are made public and understandable to parents. However, some parents and environmentalists said that the DEC tests are not enough. Contaminants are present throughout the neighborhood and are not merely confined to the school.
A report created by the Center for Public Environmental Oversight (CPEO) in October stated that, “the community has not been adequately informed about site contamination” and “contaminated groundwater appears to be migrating onto the site.”
“Though there is apparently no link between yesterday’s incident and the
subsurface contamination, the leak suggests the need for improved site management,” commented Lenny Siegel of the CPEO. “All these systems, whether for heating or site remediation, need to be operated and maintained well, and regularly.”
Students and staff were released from the hospital with no major injuries, and students were back in the building by Friday, but some remained shaken from the incident.
“Students love going to the school, there are great teachers and activities, but we want to make sure that it’s safe,” said Epstein. “The carbon monoxide and old toxins are both of concern to the community and the last thing any parent wants for their children.”