Parents Worry as Toxic Chemical Turns Up in Bronx School

City closes building and searches for alternate site for P.S. 51

By Andrew Siff
|  Tuesday, Aug 9, 2011  |  Updated 6:50 AM EDT
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A Bronx school was abruptly closed down because a chemical linked to cancer was found inside. Now there's concern other schools may be contaminated.

Andrew Siff / NBC New York

A Bronx school was abruptly closed down because a chemical linked to cancer was found inside. Now there's concern other schools may be contaminated.

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A routine inspection of an elementary school in the Bronx turned up levels of a toxic cleaning agent that exceed state guidelines.

The chemical, tricholoroethylene, has been linked to cancer and other health problems in some studies.

So the city's Department of Education ordered an immediate relocation of P.S. 51, which sits underneath the elevated No. 6 train on Jerome Avenue in Bedford Park.

"We understand this news may be unsettling," the DOE wrote in a letter to parents of the school's 300 children on Friday. "There are no immediate medical concerns for students and staff."

That assurance did little to calm parents like Olivia Awuni, whose eight-year-old son has attended P.S. 51 for two years.

"Whether that chemical affected him or not, I have no idea," she said. "And how am I going to find out?"

Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said rather than be concerned, parents should realize the city discovered the chemical after aggressively testing school buildings where the lease was due to expire. Thirty-one other schools are scheduled for inspection over the next two months.

But Fernando Tirado of Bronx Community Board 7, which has grappled with overcrowding and other educational challenges in the district for years, wanted a more complete explanation from the city.

"We want to know what has happened to the kids who have been here," Tirado said. "Were there any possible health effects to them from it?"  

 

Follow Andrew Siff on Twitter at @AndrewSiff4NY.

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