Breaking News: PS 51, The Bronx New School, To Be Moved Because of Contamination

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[Update 4:17 p.m.: Just heard from the DOE. Spokesperson Marge Feinberg says the school will be moved, not closed. The TCE was found during a inspection of the property as the DOE was looking to renew its lease on the Jerome Avenue building. A copy of the letter is included after jump.]

This week, the Department of Education and the principal of PS 51, the Bronx New School, sent out a letter to parents saying the Bedford Park elementary school will be closed moved due to Trichloroethylene contamination.

The letter sought to assure parents that there were no immediate health risks and referred questions to the city Health Department. It said the school would be moved, but it did not say where to. It did say parents would be updated regularly about the relocation.

Trichloroethylene (TCE) is an industrial solvent used to de-grease metal parts. It's also found in consumer products, such as “typewriter correction fluids, paint removers/strippers, adhesives, spot removers, and rug-cleaning fluids,” according to the Enivronmental Protection Agency (EPA). In the past it was used as a general anesthetic.

Intense short-term and prolonged exposure to TCE could cause serious health problems that affect the central nervous system, including the liver, kidney, and the immune system, according to the EPA. Exposure to TCE has also been associated with several forms of cancer.

It remains unclear exactly who high much TCE contamination was found (although it exceeded Health Department regulations) or how much exposure students had to it. The letter says that “based on review of available information on TCE levels found in the school air, the Health Department advises us that there are no immediate medical concerns for students and staff.”

Calls to the Department of Education had not been returned by the time of this posting. [Updated: see top of the post.]

The letter told parents to call the Health Department at (212) 788-4290 if they had any questions.

Here's the letter from the DOE:

Dear Community Members,

This communication is to inform you that it was recently discovered that the building that houses X051 contains levels of TCE (tricholoroethylene) in the air that exceed New York State guidelines and could not be effectively remediated prior to the start of the school year. As a result, the New York City Department of Education, in consultation with the New York City Health Department, has determined that the facility is not suitable to house our school community and for this reason, the lease will not be renewed.

Effective immediately, X051 will no longer be located at its current location. We understand this news may be unsettling; however, the safety, security, and well-being of our students, staff and community at large is our primary concern. The Department of Education is working diligently with local officials and representatives from the New York City School Construction Authority to find an appropriate learning environment for our students as soon as possible. We will update you when an alternate location is identified.

We understand that you may have questions and concerns about TCE exposure and the school's relocation process. In the next two weeks, we will host a meeting where we can provide further information and answer questions that you may have. We are also planning a second meeting at the very start of the school year so that that all parents and staff who may have been on vacation at the time of the first meeting will have the opportunity for a full briefing.

Based on review of available information on TCE levels found in the school air, the Health Department advises us that there are no immediate medical concerns for students and staff. The Health Department will continue to assess information on TCE health concerns.

I will be providing regular updates on the school’s relocation; for health questions, call 212-788-4290.

Thank you for your patience and continued support.

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