Concern Over Students' Health After Toxic Chemical Discovery

Frustrated parents who said their children suffered from headaches and other health issues at a Bronx public elementary school want the city to explain why it waited months to notify them a toxic chemical polluted the building.

The substance, trichloroethylene, is a potential carcinogen and it first turned up in air quality tests administered by the Department of Education at P.S. 51 back in February. But city officials didn't notify parents until August.

Chancellor Dennis Walcott apologized for the delayed notification and promised to speed up communication in future cases.

Emotions flowed at an unusual public meeting held at Bronx High School of Science on Thursday, just a few blocks from P.S. 51. The city announced that the approximately 300 students will attend classes instead this fall at St. Martin Church, about two miles from P.S. 51.

One parent, whose daughter graduated in 1997 and has suffered health problems since, said she's worried the chemicals have been contaminating the school for years.

"I'm starting to wonder if this is the cause," said Leona Johnson, whose daughter is now 24.

But officials from the Health Department said medical risks are minimal. The city said pediatricians at Mount Sinai are available to test children who attended the school.

Another parent said questions remain.

"These children need to be tested," said Jerry Powell.

Walcott said at the meeting he would commit to setting up a database of former students, parents and teachers, to keep them updated on the contaminated school.

Follow Andrew Siff on Twitter at @AndrewSiff4NY

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