Wednesday, April 22, 2009

From Toxic Harbor to Toxic Schools, New Bedford Stimulus Fund Toxic Clean-up Priority Based on Economics

Barney Frank and New Bedford Mayor, Scott Lang -

On April 15th MSNBC reported on stimulus funds that we’re earmarked to clean up toxic sites, among them New Bedford, MA Harbor. Both Massachusetts Senators, Kennedy(D) and Kerry (D), plus the Massachusetts 4th District Congressman, Barney Frank (D), were cited as responsible for requesting the funds to continue to clean the Harbor, one of the largest Superfund sites in the nation. New Bedford is the nation’s leading fishing port, and concerns regarding local fishing and lobstering in the Harbor were at issue.

Apparently, Kennedy, Kerry and Frank are unaware that in one of the lowest income areas of New Bedford, two schools, one high school and one middle school have been built on Toxic waste sites. The schools are nearby local projects, housing low-income residents. The schools experience ongoing testing for levels of toxins to insure students and faculty are not at risk, that said, several residents and former teachers and school employees have concerns regarding the levels of toxins at the school as well as the way the toxins are occasionally removed.

A CNN article via WKRG, Pensacola, in August, 2008, entitled “Despite Love Canal’s Lessons, Schoolchildren are Still At Risk”, describes the dangers to students, faculty, teachers at the school, as well as nearby residents. New Bedford is compared to the infamous upstate New York, Love Canal site, by Lois Gibbs, former head of the Love Canal Home Owners Association and now head of the Center for Health, Environment & Justice. The article is chilling:

New Bedford High opened in 1972 on top of a former burn dump for PCBs, an industrial chemical linked to cancer and brain damage. PCB levels in the body build over time, raising health risks.

"Like a lot of teachers there now, I figured, how bad could it be? I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2005," said former New Bedford teacher Susan Dias, who is now cancer-free. She is returning to the classroom this fall but will not go back to New Bedford High.

Former teacher Maria Quann also says New Bedford High made her ill.

"I became very, very sick. My immune system shut down. I collapsed and was bedridden for several months," Quann said. Her health improved after she left the high school, she says, and she has now retired.

Maureen Woolley, who worked in the cafeteria, says she compiled a list of 25 school employees who died of cancer.

Three classrooms were closed last year because of high PCB levels, but the school has been scrubbed and a new ventilation system added. The rooms are expected to be open this fall.

Despite results of ongoing air-quality testing, teacher David Greene remains skeptical.

"I do think there are areas of that school that continue to be dangerous," he said.

Only seven states have laws preventing cities and towns from building schools on or near toxic waste, according to the Center for Health Environment and Justice. They are Massachusetts, Rhode Island, California, Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi and Utah.

Even in states with laws, many are weak or poorly enforced, she says. In Massachusetts, state law prevents schools only from being built close to active waste dumps, which would not have prevented New Bedford High's construction three decades ago on a former dump site.

Students Play unaware - photo Southcoast

In April of this year 45.9 parts per million of PCB’s were found at New Bedford High School (four times the standard level). Additionally, arsenic, barium, cadmium, lead and chromium were reported by BETA Group (hired by the City of New Bedford). “TRC, the current consulting group for the city, disclosed more toxic chemicals, 22 of which exceeded the safe standards.”

On Saturday, the 28th of March, the City of New Bedford decided to remove some of the toxic “dirt” from the high school premises. Due to the fact that this was the weekend, the Mayor, Scott Lang (D), noted that the City is not required to warn residents or those at the school, for that matter, when Toxic soil is removed.

On that Saturday in question, several students were cleaning the school yard, as part of a detention, close to the toxic clean-up site, in addition, just yards away, other high school students were participating in sports activities. A local resident recorded the removal of the soil in a YouTube video shown below.

Of additional note, these particular types of toxins are linked to birth defects; with the high incidence of teen pregnancy in the New Bedford School System (as in most urban high schools), the risks are immeasurable in terms of compassion for those affected as well as in economic terms: eventual cost to the taxpayer.

New Bedford rated worse than Fall River for teen births, but New Bedford’s rate has fallen 9 percent in the last 10 years, while Fall River’s has climbed 13 percent.
New Bedford also had a troubling statistic: 10.4 percent of infants born there had a low birth rate — the second-highest percentage in the state. That rate rose from a 6.9-percent rolling average from 1992 to 1994. That state average for 2007 was 7.9 percent; Fall River's rate was 8 percent.

With the Mayor and Barney Frank, our Financial Genius in Chief, so buddy-buddy, one has to wonder why nothing has been done to “invest in” New Bedford’s most valuable assets, their children. Could it be that low income families are not quite as important as say, the fishing industry? Or is it economics, as in political campaign contributions? Where, pray tell, is New Bedford’s “Erin Brockovich”?

1 comment:

Carol said...

New Bedford is a grant/funding pit. Vultures who know little about the city---and certainly don't truly care about it---hover over us on the ready to swoop in and grab the plentiful funding that is dropped down from the state, feds, and foundations. There is little effort to address true imperatives. There is no effort to include the citizenry, to allow for local knowledge and local empowerment, as well as development of local leaders. That in fact is discouraged, because that threatens the jobs of the municipal employees and nonprofits that "work" there.

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