Consultants Detail Asbestos, Lead Paint, PCB Levels at Saxe Middle School


The EPA has asked consultants overseeing the renovation of Saxe Middle School’s auditorium to test for PCBs in the concrete floor, officials said Thursday.

The levels of PCBs in the floor’s gray paint were high enough to cause concern, Amy Vaillancourt, project manager at civil and environmental engineering firm Tighe & Bond, told parents during an informational session held in the middle school.

Ranging from 1,600 to 4,900 parts per million or “ppm” (against a federal standard of 50)—the PCB levels were not only higher than in other areas of the auditorium, but they also presented a greater exposure risk because floor itself shows some wear, Vaillancourt said. In removing the hazardous materials this summer, depending on whether the PCBs “leaked” into the concrete floor itself, some depth of that floor (up to one quarter-inch) may need to be removed as well during remediation this summer, she said.

“To put that into perspective, there are two schools I’m dealing with right now—one high school that has 220,000 ppm and another elementary school that has 400,000 ppm—in paints,” Vaillancourt said at the session, held in the Band Room at Saxe.

“So in dealing with the EPA and those particular situations, we have not evacuated the school, we have gotten air testing. Typically the EPA does not rush right into air testing—they want to identify the source through sampling and wipe samples, and if concentrations are high, their main goal is to find the source, abate the material and do sampling afterwards so that we can have re-occupancy.”

About 20 parents, district staff and administrators and Board of Education members attended the session.

Vaillancourt discussed state and federal testing requirements, sampling at Saxe and results to date, abatement, monitoring and next steps.

She summarized the testing and levels found of PCBs as follows—this roundup includes comments from Vaillancourt in each instance:

  • Asbestos: ‘Asbestos-containing materials’ are defined as those containing more than 1 percent asbestos. Out of 89 samples taken, she said, “we really found one material in the school to contain asbestos, and it’s pipe insulation. It’s very limited and it’s behind walls, above ceilings, in some of the older portions in the back of the auditorium.”
  • Lead Paint: Lead-based paint is defined as “hazardous” when it’s measured at more than 1 milligram per square centimeter of lead. After 32 readings were taken with an X-ray analyzer (XRF), the paint on steel ceiling beams was found contain 1.2 to 1.5 mg/cm2. “The only component that we found to contain any levels of lead close to this were the actual steel support columns and a lot of times when you are dealing with metal and you are reading an XRF, you can have some substrate interference so typically we do find a little higher, elevated concentration with an XRF because it’s picking up some of the metal components, so we are considering these very low levels on those metal ceiling units.”
  • PCBs: In 42 samples, concentrations in caulks were found between .94 and 2.6 ppm, in doorframes between 5.9 and 87 ppm and 1,600 to 4,900 ppm in the gray paint in the concrete floors. “So due to the elevated levels in the gray paint on the floor of the auditorium—to take one quick step back, all the materials that I looked at with the exception of wear on the auditorium floor, all were in good condition, they were not deteriorating or creating a dust hazard. But I was a little concerned about the auditorium floor and so we took a wipe sample [for PCBs in the dust].”

After one set of those wipe samples also came back high, and the auditorium was closed off, Vaillancourt said. The school also opted to close off the ceramics room, which appeared to use the same paint (levels there later were to be found at 1,000 ppm), Vaillancourt said. The boiler room—which is not accessible to schoolchildren—came in at 890 ppm, she said.

The auditorium has been shuttered since December, when Tighe & Bond found PCBs there. It’s part of the original 1957 building.

The presentation to parents comes as a building committee prepares to supply town officials with a new analysis of expansion needs at the middle school.

After saying initially that the town had two options vis-à-vis the auditorium—namely, renovating it or else doing so and additionally bumping out into the parking lot (toward the Y) to expand some music rooms—a third, still more comprehensive possibility emerged.

Prompted mainly by enrollment projections and visual and performing arts’ needs, the so-called “Option 3” would include not just an auditorium renovation but new construction up along Farm Road toward South Avenue. The Board of Selectmen on Tuesday will vote on appropriating $45,000 for consultants to study the need for and feasibility of such a project.

At Wednesday’s forum on contaminants, parents asked whether dust wipe sample results depend on whether a space is in use or not (no they don’t), whether acoustical tiles on the walls of the auditorium had been sampled (yes), whether more than one laboratory independently analyzes samples for contaminants (yes), and what happens if “all hell breaks loose” and the remediation work isn’t done by the start of school next fall (unlikely, but school opening would be delayed).

One parent asked how testers knew to look in some rooms, and not others, for the high-PCB-level gray paint that had caused concern.

Vaillancourt said she looked at what was “visibly accessible.”

“Did we come in and pull up floor tile and carpet? No,” Vaillancourt said. “My opinion in that situation is that you have floor tile and carpet covering if that were the case, so that material is never getting disturbed through walking or chipping or anything like that to cause the dust that would be a concern, it won’t happen you have a barrier in between that, the auditorium to me it’s bare, it has some wear spots, so that is when I became concerned and we started down this road.”

Gene Torone, executive vice president of construction services as Glastonbury-based S/L/A/M Collaborative, said full-scale remediation work and removal of contaminated material will start after school lets out. Vaillancourt said the work would be finished by the start of school, even if that meant bringing in extra people.

“Our focus is to contain all the PCB paint, dust, concrete—remediate it all, transport and dispose” she said. “Typically it goes to New York, that is the landfill that is taking PCBs that is closest right now.”

Though the EPA’s federal standard for PCBs is 50 ppm, Connecticut’s state standard is at 1 ppm. That’s because the state had existing criteria of 1 ppm for PCBs in the soil, Vaillancourt said, the state has never updated its standards for hazardous building materials.

“When we talk to any lab, they tell you that under 10 ppm it’s really hard to detect the exact level of any PCBs,” she said. “It could be one, it could be five. It’s a gray area right now. So there is a little turmoil in our state regulating 1 ppm when if we took the project and we moved it a few miles south to New York, we wouldn’t deal with anything under 50.”

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