Soil testing finds no new threats at GHS fields, open house set for March 6

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Town Commissioner of Public Works Amy Siebert explains the findings of the town's risk assessment of the contaminated soil at Greenwich High School.  — Ken Borsuk photo

Town Commissioner of Public Works Amy Siebert explains the findings of the town’s risk assessment of the contaminated soil at Greenwich High School. — Ken Borsuk photo

The results are in and, as hoped, the contaminated soil at Greenwich High School does not seem to pose an elevated risk to students or users of the fields. But what will happen next is still a matter up for discussion.

The final results of the testing were discussed at a press conference on Wednesday afternoon at the Havemeyer Building. Superintendent of Schools William McKersie, Greenwich Commissioner of Public Works Amy Siebert, Board of Education Chairman Leslie Moriarty and Michael Doherty, an outside consultant brought in by the town for this project from AECOM confirmed that there does not appear to be any new danger to people regularly using the fields.

“We did a human health risk assessment where we looked at potential exposures to the people who use the site,” Ms. Siebert said. “That’s students, teachers, coaches, custodians and the Parks and Recreation folks who manage the fields all the way through to a construction worker who might be digging deep underground. What we found was there’s no increased risk to the vast majority of these people. Who has the increased risk? The construction worker who will be digging deep… And that kind of risk can be controlled with proper measures if you were doing construction.”

An ecological risk assessment on nearby wildlife was done and Ms. Siebert said the potential risks to animals like birds, fish, amphibians, rabbits and raccoons were looked at and there doesn’t appear to be a problem there. She said work was still being done to study microbes from the sediment and the pond on the site. Ms. Siebert said there was never much use of the area as a habitat in the first place.

Ms. Siebert said this came after a “very comprehensive study” of the fields to look at soil, air, sediments, surface water and other areas. This was done in conjunction with both state regulators and representatives from the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Sampling was done on several occasions over school vacations and Ms. Siebert said more than 1,200 soil samples from 260 soil locations and 56 ground water samples from 26 monitoring wells were taken.

“A lot of work has been done and we’ve been all over the site to make sure we have an understanding of what’s there,” Ms. Siebert said.

This issue is set to be discussed further at an open house on it set for March 6 at Central Middle School starting at 6 p.m. Ms. Siebert said there would be a presentation and then question and answers. A lot of the focus at this hearing will be on the potential costs and plans for remediation, but those are still under discussion and have not been officially released yet. Mr. Doherty said that potential solutions would be evaluated through several criteria like cost, effectiveness for the short and long term and public acceptance.

Dr. McKersie said safety was the chief criteria as far as the district was concerned.

“The health and safety of our students and staff are first and foremost no matter what,” Dr. McKersie said, adding a pledge that any decisions made would be evidence based and transparent to the public.

Interim remedial measures are still in place and Ms. Siebert stressed that “the site is safe for play.” She added that monitoring of the site is ongoing and would be “for the foreseeable future.”

The contaminated soil was first discovered in 2011 during construction of the music instructional space and auditorium (MISA) project. Oddly colored soil was found during work on a parking lot and testing confirmed the presence of high concentrations of metals and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). It’s unclear how the soil became contaminated but it has long been speculated that the problem could date back decades to the original construction of GHS meaning when fill was used before there even was an EPA to evaluate it. That means the contaminated soil for more than 40 years before it was even discovered.

Despite the apparent lack of new dangers, Ms. Siebert said that simply leaving the soil as is and not doing anything more was not an option. But what will be done is still open for discussion. Kim Eves, the school district’s director of communications, said after a feasibility study was released there would be an additional 30 days for questions to be submitted on the record and after that there would be a 30-60 day period of answering those questions before a formal plan is determined and then acted on.

 

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