The Harwood Unified Union School District committee that is working on developing a bond for the district is aware of the need to test all schools in the district for PCBs and is likewise aware of the fact that the Legislature is earmarking funds to cover some remediation.
There is a $13 million pot that the Legislature has approved to pay for PCB remediation in schools and last year lawmakers earmarked $16 million for Burlington High School, which had to close its school due to PCBs in 2020 and is now building a new school.
Per the state’s Act 74 all schools built before 1980 (all of our schools except Crossett Brook Middle School were built before 1980) must undergo PCB testing. To date only Warren Elementary School has been tested and results aren’t yet in.
PCBs are carcinogens that were widely used in building materials such as caulk, paint, glues, plastics, fluorescent lighting ballasts, transformers, and capacitors.
It’s worrisome that the testing is taking longer than expected and even more worrisome that the Legislature extended the deadline to conduct testing because testing was turning up such high levels of PCBs in schools.
Just last spring, testing at Bellows Falls Union High School revealed that multiple rooms in the school, including the gym, auditorium, and some classrooms as well as the cafeteria had PCB levels that called for immediate action. That means those spaces may not be used for students and staff.
In order to open the school last month, the district purchased 80 carbon filtration units that will lower the airborne concentrations of the chemicals and administrators have juggled schedules to minimize students and staff being in the building more than 24 hours per week. That has required renting 11 tents equipped with Wi-Fi and propane heaters -- at a cost of some $100,000 for the fall. The tents are not equipped to withstand winter in Vermont.
While the Agency of Education will cover the cost of the tents, that is all still taxpayer money and it should not obscure the very real health risks to all those, students and staff alike, who are in those buildings and exposed to these dangerous chemicals.