An 11-year-old who attended P.S. 51 for three years suffered brain damage from the toxic chemicals in the school building, the boy’s father claims in a lawsuit filed on Monday.
The boy had attended P.S. 51 from September 2007 to June 2011, two months before the Department of Education informed families that there was an unsafe level of trichloroethylene (TCE) in the soil below the cafeteria of the school’s 3220 Jerome Avenue building in the Bronx.
The suit states that the boy has suffered “impaired motor coordination,” “impaired mathematical skills,” “impaired visual and verbal memory” and “impaired perceptual reasoning,” as well as a “lack of concentration and attention,” “frequent headaches,” “vomiting,” and “insomnia.”
The school had been at the Jerome Avenue location since 1992. In the six decades before that, the site hosted a string of industrial activities, including an auto garage and a lamp factory. The hazardous potential was clear enough that, in 1982, the Environmental Protection Agency began monitoring it to keep tabs on its “generation of unknown wastes.”
In January 2011, education officials discovered that the level of TCE in the soil vapor was unsafe. In March, they conducted tests that showed levels 10,000 times above the safety standard. The department also reported that four 550-gallon gasoline tanks had been buried beneath the property from 1945 to 1992.
The school switched buildings that fall.
According to a June 2013 Department of Health report, students, teachers, and staff faced a “low” increased risk “for certain types of cancer and immune system effects.” In addition there was possibly a “moderate” increased risk for heart defects in babies born to mothers who were pregnant while working at the school.
At least two others have filed suit. A teacher claimed the chemicals caused the brain defects in her unborn child, leading to a terminated pregnancy. An aide who’d worked at the school since 1993 claimed that the exposure to the toxins caused her pancreatic and liver cancer.
The 11-year-old boy in this most recent suit “had been experiencing many symptoms,” but his father, Andy Foxe, “was unaware of the causes” until the testing about the chemicals emerged.
The complaint lists as defendants the New York City School Construction Authority, the city’s Department of Health, and the city’s Department of Youth and Community Development. The city agencies, the suit states, “should have known earlier of the dangerously high levels of TCE and potentially harmful conditions existing at the educational facility given that the site … had a history of heavy use and presence of toxic chemicals.”
Next: the text of the complaint.
Next: the D.O.E.’s 2011 letter to parents.
Send story tips to the author, Albert Samaha