FAIRFIELD, Conn. – Fairfield will soon begin to examine its schools for any signs of contaminants such as those found at Osborn Hill School.
The town hired consultants Woodard & Curran to do preliminary tests for at least eight schools that were built or saw major renovations during the same time period as Osborn Hill. The crews will look for construction materials that might contain polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, which might increase the risk of cancer. PCBs were banned in the United States in 1979, so schools built after that date will not be tested.
Crews found PCBs while doing required tests for a renovation project at Osborn Hill this summer. The town cleaned up the majority of the school, but the gymnasium has been closed indefinitely. A temporary gym was installed outside the school late last month.
Woodard & Curran will start with a series of low-cost, simple tests to see whether the town needs to do further studies. One method is a screen for chlorine, which can’t confirm that PCBs exist but can rule them out. “If you don’t have chlorine, you don’t have PCBs,” Jeffrey Hamel of Woodard & Curran told the Board of Education last week.
Even if the group finds signs of PCBs, a school might not need a cleanup on the scale of Osborn Hill. The chemicals are harmful only if ingested over long periods of time and are safe as long as the particles don’t become airborne. Woodard & Curran’s Lisa Campe compared PCBs to asbestos, which can remain in buildings as long pieces remain intact.
“If you have something in good condition that isn’t releasing into an air duct and causing high exposure potential, there’s not going to be a health risk,” Campe said last week.
The cleanup at Osborn Hill has already cost the town more than $700,000, and estimates for work in the gymnasium are expected to be higher. The town is paying Woodard and Curran $33,000 for its work. The company will return to town in January with a risk assessment and recommendations for what to do at other schools.
“Until we do this first step, it’s really hard to predict,” Campe told the Board of Finance on Tuesday. “We’re hoping to narrow the universe of things that you even need to potentially consider further, but there could be a range of potential response actions.”