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ECSD Offers Assurances About Environmental Concerns At Elmira High School

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On Friday, Elmira City School District Superintendent Hillary Austin sent a memo out to the teachers and staff to share information about concerns that have recently resurfaced regarding contamination at the site of Elmira High School. On April 12 a public meeting was hosted at the Holiday Inn in Elmira where Walter Hang of Ithaca based "Toxics Targeting" discussed what he considers unmediated toxic hazards at the school. 

The school site, once occupied by the Remington Rand plant, has long been a concern for residents who believe contamination has led to higher rates of cancer, auto immune disease and other health issues among those who attended the school. 

In the memo, provided to ElmiraTelegram.com, Austin wrote that while contamination is present on the school property, it is beneath the surface and measures are in place to prevent students and staff from being exposed to it. She states that for years the district has worked directly with multiple agencies including the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation ( DEC ) and New York State Department of Health ( DOH).

Additionally, Austin says firms such as Geosyntec, an engineering firm that works on the environmental plans, Sterling Environmental, which oversees the districts Environmental Management plan, and others meet regularly with the district to collaborate regarding soil testing, remediation plans, as well as the environmental management plan for the site. 

Austin states that the DEC and Geosyntec have held public meetings in the past to address the situation, and offered the following information compiled by those agencies:

  •  A very detailed Environmental Management Plan has been developed for the school building and grounds which details procedures for managing potentially contaminated soils on the school property along with maintaining the sub-slab depressurization systems in the school building. 
  • Sub-slab depressurization systems were installed as a result of the extensive sub slab air sampling from beneath the building, and indoor air sampling. The systems were placed where it was determined that this additional measure would be helpful to ensure the continued safety of students and staff.  The systems are regularly maintained and are fully automated with electronic monitoring that notify the district if there is a change.
  • Drinking water at the school comes from the City of Elmira’s public water supply that is routinely tested and not affected by contaminated soilor groundwater.
  • Direct contact with contamination in the soil is very unlikely unless people dig into subsurface soil, which is not done without DEC oversite.  Direct contact is unlikely because the site is covered with buildings and pavement and soil cover is maintained in other areas.  The Environmental Management Plan outlines procedures for the proper handling of soil if someone needs to dig into it, including air monitoring during any excavation activities.
  • The capital improvements that are being performed on the school property are being coordinated with the State and UNISYS ( the agency responsible for clean up of identified environmental issues ) to ensure that the work that needs to be performed is minimally intrusive to school activities.  UNISYS is performing remedial work prior to construction activities to minimize the need to revisit those areas.  Furthermore, all work is being performed in compliance of the Environmental Management Plan.

For those with concerns or wishing to learn more about the issue, a public hearing sponsored by the Department of Environmental Conversation and Geosyntec will take place on May 2nd, 6:30-8:00pm at the Elmira Holiday Inn.

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Chris    426

There's a lot of focus on the school, but what about the surrounding neighborhood? 

I've seen comments online about people sending their kids to Notre Dame instead, but isn't that close enough as the crow flies to be a concern as well? 

Has there been testing done outside the school site?

As far as the school and illnesses go, do we have a concrete number of former students with cancer or other health issues? 

Building a school on an old industrial site was obviously a bad move, but hardly unique to Southside. Looks like they're trying to fix it, and as a parent, yeah, it's concerning. But I also know correlation doesn't equal causation.  

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Mary    95

Have you ever been to Millers Pond? That sludge fest is very telling as far as environmental hazards/effects- many a tale have been told about three eyed fish in there, and portions of it never freeze.

My Dad grew up over there, and he had cancer. I'm sure it could be attributed to other hazards, yet he is one person that they can add to the list. The Facebook page driven by Peter Keenan for election has a lot of information on this, including charts/graphs, etc. They are taking a survey of students / alumni who have gotten sick or died since then, and when you see all of the comments from folks as to their experience, it is a little alarming.

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Chris    426

Again I ask, what is the end game in this? 

Class action lawsuit? 

I see Mary mentioned on the other thread shutting down the school if in fact there is a direct connection. Then what? The taxpayers are strapped already, are they gonna want to pay to build already entirely new school? If so, where? What do you do with all those students in the meantime? Is the district insured for that kind of thing, and would the insurance company pay for a new school? 

I'm not trying to be obtuse, I'm seriously wondering these things.

Furthermore, while it doesnt help former students, who's to say that the recent clean up hasn't taken care of the issue for current and future students?

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Chris    426
37 minutes ago, Mary said:

Have you ever been to Millers Pond? That sludge fest is very telling as far as environmental hazards/effects- many a tale have been told about three eyed fish in there, and portions of it never freeze.

Millers Pond is pretty close to EHS and directly upstream from Notre Dame:

Screenshot_2018-04-23-16-50-34.png

So if there's something to all this, it's a hell if a lot bigger than just one school.

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KReed    159

I have to agree with Chris....there doesn't seem to be sufficient evidence that the school grounds are any more toxic than average. 

I maintain that this movement (which began in early 2000) was based on an unsubstantiated "perception" of causation. And believe me, as a parent whose toddler was diagnosed with the "Big C" just a few years earlier - I completely understand the impulse to want to find a source for this horrible news.

Really, I do. But the fact is, it happens. Just as other bad things happen to good people (even children) at times. And, by all accounts....the incidence of various cancers is statistically no different at that site than other locations across New York State. 

If you want to read the entire 255 page transcript of the June 2001 hearing of the 107th Congress...it's here:

https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/CHRG-107shrg80650/pdf/CHRG-107shrg80650.pdf

The DOH fact sheet that answers some of Chris's questions about the statistics (as of 2001) are on pages 120-122 copied below. 

19 hours ago, Chris said:

As far as the school and illnesses go, do we have a concrete number of former students with cancer or other health issues? 

 

5ade4b9421b75_HearingA.png.9e3d587826b11a0ae7c473b97189a11d.png5ade4b96b8526_HearingB.png.a0b8c5709ee725e5609acfc1c8e51874.png5ade4b996987e_HearingC.png.e9c61895a54a26894f8f7c60d05c77bb.png

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KReed    159

When concerned parents of high school students Dx'ed with (various) cancers compare notes, it feels like the school is some common denominator.

My daughter's Wilms Tumor likely began in utero and grew slowly (as all Wilms does) for a couple of years before gaining a mass that grows quickly to a size that was detectable. 

So, when you consider that each case took x, y or z number of months or years before the diagnosis, then it becomes less "obvious" that their 1-4 years at that location were a common cause.

 

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KRSullivan    71

The issue I see with the  information being gathered to try and find a correlation is it's to narrow. They are asking anyone that went to SHS/EHS and has gotten sick. 

They should also ask for people at EFA or HHS to determine if the numbers on the Southside are high or just normal. 

The way they are going about it is almost like a Witch Hunt. How many of those people that are sick also ate at Pudgies or shopped at P&C? 

Most won't listen when they are told the studies done in the past showed no correlation. This was settled over a decade ago but the county democrats have decided to make it political. The 1 guy in particular has only concentrated one this one issue and ignored any issues the county can actually do something about. 

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KRSullivan    71
1 hour ago, KReed said:

So, when you consider that each case took x, y or z number of months or years before the diagnosis, then it becomes less "obvious" that their 1-4 years at that location were a common cause.

 

If it was about needing a few years to develop it would make you wonder how any teacher that's taught at the high school for 10-20-30 years don't have health issues

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KReed    159
11 minutes ago, KRSullivan said:

They should also ask for people at EFA or HHS to determine if the numbers on the Southside are high or just normal. 

 

Note the box at the bottom of page 121 comparing observed cancer cases (3 zip codes) to "expected" cases. They are virtually identical statistically. 

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KRSullivan    71
1 hour ago, KReed said:

Note the box at the bottom of page 121 comparing observed cancer cases (3 zip codes) to "expected" cases. They are virtually identical statistically. 

KReed, you need to stop bringing logic and common sense to the internet. Lol

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Chris    426
1 hour ago, KRSullivan said:

... it would make you wonder how any teacher that's taught at the high school for 10-20-30 years don't have health issues

Amazingly ( or not, depending on who you ask ) that never occurred to me. 

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Mary    95
11 hours ago, Chris said:

Amazingly ( or not, depending on who you ask ) that never occurred to me. 

Interesting - I hope they check that out as well. The answer to this would be much more telling, don't you think?

I feel that the cleanup over the past summer was very hush hush. The entire section was fenced/hidden from view, and I don't know if they even said what they were doing.  I have a distant relative that lives in that neighborhood, and they had no clue what was happening.

 

You're right Chris, what would we do if they closed the school? I don't have the answer for that. Yet if there is a correlation, something must be done. I'm not into lawsuits, that doesn't solve anything. Yet having our students in  a safe learning environment is important.

What I find interesting are the types of cancers that have been associated with former students, particularly testicular cancer, many attributed to athletes.

I would rather see a witch hunt than it be ignored.

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Chris    426
1 hour ago, Mary said:

 

I feel that the cleanup over the past summer was very hush hush. The entire section was fenced/hidden from view...

Or to keep dust under control?

 

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Mary    95
3 hours ago, Chris said:

Or to keep dust under control?

 

Perhaps a little bit of both.

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Adam    3
7 hours ago, Mary said:

 

 

You're right Chris, what would we do if they closed the school? I don't have the answer for that. Yet if there is a correlation, something must be done. I'm not into lawsuits, that doesn't solve anything. Yet having our students in  a safe learning environment is important.

 

 

I guess when they decided to re-arrange the grades and schools that housed them, they could have maybe closed down the one with suspected ties to carcinogens built on known brownfield sites, used EFA and perhaps Washington elementary? Academics at this point

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Chris    426
2 hours ago, Adam said:

I guess when they decided to re-arrange the grades and schools that housed them, they could have maybe closed down the one with suspected ties to carcinogens built on known brownfield sites, used EFA and perhaps Washington elementary? 

I don't recall anyone, the public or otherwise, bringing up the potential hazard at the time, but could be wrong.

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KRSullivan    71

EHS was the only building big enough to house the students. 

The fence was part of the remediation process. It wasn't there to hide anything. In fact all that information of what was going to happen was discussed at a few board meetings. If I recall correctly one of the reasons for the fence was to make sure residents weren't going to come in contact with the soil. Everyone knows a big dirt pile is like a magnet to kids. 

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Andy Patros    1

There are many lingering questions that remain among our fellow citizens in the community.  This is certainly a difficult and emotional item to address, but something I believe that we need to do as a community.

Also, if you have not viewed/listened to the presentation Walter Hang delivered at the 4/12 meeting I hosted, please visit www.andypatros.com to see it on Youtube.  The technical information he used is NYSDEC data.

And, if you'd like to have a better view of the slides Walter used, you can download his PowerPoint presentation with embedded audio from the 4/12 meeting, by going to www.andypatros.com/ehs.  Simply advance the slides when you hear Walter say "next slide".

As a citizen that helped initiate the 1999-2003 inquiry, I think more discussion and communication within our community on this item is better than less.  Let's work to get more questions answered.  Thanks, Andy Patros

PS - I highly recommend that the public attend the 5/2 DEC meeting, 6:30 at the Elmira Holiday Inn.

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Chris    426
2 minutes ago, Andy Patros said:

This is certainly a difficult and emotional item to address, but something I believe that we need to do as a community.

As a citizen that helped initiate the 1999-2003 inquiry, I think more discussion and communication within our community on this item is better than less.  Let's work to get more questions answered. 

 

I'm all for further discussion about it, and glad we can do it here. 

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KRSullivan    71

I was hoping to attend the presentation by Mr. Hang but the piston in my car engine decided it wanted to take a stroll outside my engine on my way home from work that night so I didn't make it. 

But I did watch it on YouTube. When he said something along the lines of he only quickly looked at the information told me he wasn't fully prepared to talk about the subject. 

Plus the fact he didn't talk to the district or NYS DEC about any of the reports to get updated information or clarification told me all I needed to know.  I hope a few hundred people show up on May 2nd and learn everything they can.  Further informed discussion is great instead of people just assuming they know what's going on. I can say not 1 time 4 years has anyone attended a Elmira City District Board of Education meeting and asked about this topic. Plus the fact that 0 (zero) people showed up for 2 other NYS DEC information sessions speaks volumes. Maybe it was because they didn't take place on an election year or maybe some people have a hidden agenda. But I look forward to more people being informed on the efforts the district has taken to remediate this issue. 

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Chris    426

I was unable to attend, but looks like there was a good turn out for the public hearing, judging by the live Facebook feeds I saw. If anyone has video of that on Youtube ( I couldn't find any with a quick search ) please let me know, I'd like to link it here somewhere. 

Admittedly it is concerning with one son there now and another who will be next year. I was wondering today, with so much focus on the fields, how many among the 200 or so who believe their illness was caused by the contamination played sports or were in contact with the fields vs. those who weren't? 

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