Ferrer: Bloomberg ignoring school's pollution

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Fernando Ferrer blasted Mayor Michael Bloomberg Tuesday for allowing a high school to be built next to polluted soil in a mostly minority neighborhood in the Bronx.

Ferrer, the borough's former president and a Democratic mayoral hopeful, said the mayor and school officials ignored pleas by elected officials and residents last year not to put the Soundview Educational Campus on the toxic land, the site of a former manufacturing operation.

An education official, meanwhile, said the land on which the school was built is safe.

Soil samples showed high levels of arsenic, lead and other harmful substances next to the 800-seat, two-story high school on Story Avenue, according to tests done by an independent company, Ferrer said.

According to Ferrer, City Hall not only ignored the evidence, it fast-tracked the process to build the school without community input.

"These alarmingly high levels of toxins should raise a red flag," Ferrer said in a news conference near the school.

Soil tests showed levels of chromium and mercury higher than the state standard, while groundwater samples revealed significantly higher levels of arsenic, barium, cadium, chromium, lead and mercury than the acceptable state level.

Lead, which is especially dangerous to young children, was found to be thousands of times higher than the state standard, while arsenic was more than four times above than the permitted level.

However, a state Department of Conservation spokesman, Michael Fraser, said recent tests by the School Construction Authority "showed that pollutant levels are well below established state thresholds and found no evidence of health concerns" there.

A mayoral spokesman and a spokesman for Bloomberg's campaign referred questions to the city's Department of Education, which released a statement from Deputy Chancellor Kathleen Grimm declaring the site safe.

"We would never expose any of our children, teachers, or staff to unsafe learning or working conditions. The school was opened after we thoroughly tested the site -- the school was safe when it opened and continues to be safe today," the statement said.

Grimm added the Department of Education worked closely with the state's Department of Conservation and Department of Health to address concerns and did independent tests that showed the school was safe.

A Ferrer spokeswoman, Jen Bluestein, said later that the mayor passed the buck to the education department and is ignoring evidence.

"Mayor control means that Mayor Bloomberg needs to answer these urgent questions directly," Bluestein said.

Ferrer's allegations came a week after Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Elmhurst publicly raised concerns about the site, once home to Loral Electronics Systems, which used it for painting and light manufacturing as well as temporary storage of "hazardous materials."

"It is a problem and the Department of Education and the School Construction Authority has not fully allayed the concerns of the the congressman, other elected officials and the community," said Crowley's chief of staff, Chris McCannell.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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