Toxins beneath Info Tech H.S. worrying parents

Donald Murphy plans to pull his 15-year-old daughter from Information Technology High School in Long Island City.
“I’m worried about the long-term effects and issues like leukemia and breast cancer. I’m concerned about any respiratory illness,” the worried father said on Thursday, September 20. “I don’t want to deal with anything at all, not my daughter or my grandchildren in the future.”
Murphy said that he made the decision after hearing about problems with a vapor extraction system, intended to remove toxins buried underneath Info Tech.
According to local politicians, the device recently malfunctioned, and when functioning properly, it could be drawing more toxins from nearby sites than already exist in the ground.
“The children of the City of New York must be our top priority when it comes to safeguarding public health,” said Councilmember James Gennaro, at a press conference at Info Tech, which also houses facilities for special education students as well as high schoolers.
According to Gennaro, an environmental consultant recommended that the pumping system be shut down, while the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) told school officials to leave the device in place. With conflicting advice, Gennaro and Councilmember Eric Gioia called for officials to investigate the area.
“I’m a dad. Jim [Gennaro]’s a dad. These are the questions that every parent would want to know about their children’s school,” Gioia said.
However, school officials refuted the politicians’ claims about toxicity.
“We are completely confident that Info Tech is safe and wouldn’t allow people in the building otherwise,” a Department of Education (DOE) spokesperson wrote in a statement. “In fact, air quality tests conducted earlier this month inside the school showed no contaminants in the air - despite mistaken claims in a recent news report that vapors are permeating the school.”
The politicians also blasted the city for not disclosing information about the site’s former use - as the Gould Mercereau metal-plating warehouse - before opening in 2003. The information, they said, was not made available because the DOE leased the location - at a price tag of $1.5 million per year - instead of buying the property.
On Thursday, September 20, the school held a meeting, which several parents hoped would address their concerns, but media outlets, including a Queens Courier reporter, were denied entrance.
One Info Tech parent, Ivan Valle, whose son is a ninth grader, said on Wednesday, September 26, that he is waiting to hear back about tests that were supposed to have been done over the weekend of Saturday and Sunday, September 22 and 23.
“There will be further testing, and when the results are ready, we will provide them to the parents,” said DOE spokesperson Margie Feinberg.
“The fact of the matter is that if the test is still inconclusive - meaning that the levels are still too high - then at that point we must make a decision,” Valle said.
Still, environmental consultant Lenny Siegel, who investigated a similar site in the Bronx, said that the city had not used the right kind of testing methods in previous studies.
“They weren’t looking for something at a low enough concentration to know if there was a problem,” he said, adding, “They are telling people that they are safe and they have no basis for it.”

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