On Monday, November 6, Warren Elementary School (WES) received a notification from the state that levels of PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls in excess of state standards were detected in the air of an ancillary pump room in the school’s basement.
PCBs are chemicals that have been linked to health disorders, including cancer. They were commonly used in materials such as paints, glue, caulk, plastics and electrical supplies until 1980. Warren School was built in 1970-71.
Harwood Unified Union School District (HUUSD) director of maintenance and operations Ray Daigle said that the pump room, which houses the school’s water system and other machinery, is accessed by one staff member for a short period on daily basis. He said that the door is closed and locked and not accessible to students.
During the week of September 4, 2023, an environmental consultant collected samples of indoor air throughout the school, which were then processed by a laboratory and reviewed by the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation and the Vermont Department of Health, according to HUUSD superintendent Michael Leichliter.
The testing found 70 nanograms of PCBs per cubic meter in the pump room. The state has determined 30 nanograms per cubic meter to be an appropriate level for HUUSD schools.
On Wednesday, November 8, HUUSD staff met with these agencies to discuss the test results, which Leichliter said were “quite a relief as there was only one unoccupied utility room that had a finding [of PCBs].”
Daigle said that the school is working with a state-approved contractor, Fuss and O’Neill, to have a work plan put together, which would include steps for remediation or mitigation. The state will cover the costs of contracting services and the cost of remediation is unknown.
Leichliter said that the district would be alerting WES families by email on Friday, November 10, and that test results from the state would be posted to the WES website.
The state will do bulk testing at the school next – looking for PCBs on various surfaces like caulk, coatings, and oils from machinery, according to Daigle.
Warren School was the first of the local schools to be tested. All schools will be tested, except for Crossett Brook which was built in the late 1990s. According to the state PCB testing website Moretown, Fayston and Waitsfield elementary schools were slated for testing between October and December this year with Brookside Primary likely to be tested in 2024. Harwood Union was slated for testing in the fall of 2024 but will now be tested next spring at the request of Leichliter. The HUUSD Board is currently working on plans for a November 2024 vote on a construction bond and PCB test results will inform the bond planning and process.