The Harwood Unified Union School District (HUUSD) administration wants air testing on all its campuses. Specifically, the administration wants to test its schools for polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, highly toxic and carcinogenic industrial compounds.

The desire to run air quality tests at HUUSD campuses stems from news of a PCB incident at Burlington High School (BHS). According to an article in VTDigger, an air quality test at BHS revealed that PCBs were leaching out of school building materials at dangerously high levels. BHS school officials announced that students would likely not be allowed to reenter the building this year. In fact, BHS Superintendent Tom Flanagan said that students might not be able to return to the school for more than two years, if health experts deem the campus unsafe for return before full renovations are complete.

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With the dire reality of BHS air quality outcomes in mind, HUUSD Superintendent Brigid Nease reached out to Tom Briodo, branch manager and principal scientist from ATC Group Services LLC, to inquire about air quality testing for HUUSD schools.

Briodo told Nease that the Vermont Department of Health and the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation will soon meet to discuss PCBs and suggested that the HUUSD wait to test its campuses until the Department of Health publishes new PCB guidelines.

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“As you know, we collected the air samples at the Burlington High School following specific input from the VDH. We could cost out similar sampling for you right now, but suggest you wait for the latest information from the VDH before proceeding,” Briodo said.

In a letter to the HUUSD Board, Nease explained that issues surrounding PCBs involve only construction completed prior to 1980, so some schools are in the clear. “Crossett Brook Middle School, being built in the 1990s is not a concern. Warren had the PCBs abated in 2017 during that renovation. It is most likely not a concern at Thatcher Brook Primary School due to the prevalence of using this contaminant in construction materials was mostly in the 1950s through the late 1970s,” said Nease.

Currently the HUUSD has not done any air testing for PCBs in any of its schools.