P.S. 51 Was Shuttered After Dangerous Trichloroethylene Was Found

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — The New York State Department of Health has released disturbing new information about a former Bronx elementary school, which was closed two years ago because of contamination.

As CBS 2’s Lou Young reported, the Department of Education shut down P.S. 51, the Bronx New School in 2011. The school was housed in a former lamp factory at 3220 Jerome Ave. in the Bedford Park section of the borough, and it was found to be contaminated with toxic chemicals.

Now, former students at the school are wondering if the building made them sick.

“I have diabetes, I suffer from depression, and I’ve been getting migraines since I was 9 years old,” former student Madeline Higgins told CBS 2’s Young on Wednesday.

The primary pollutant is trichloroethylene, an industrial solvent that can cause a variety of health problems, including nerve, kidney and liver damage. Students and parents learned Tuesday that the highest levels of the chemical were in what was a school cafeteria for 18 years.

“My three kids went to that school. They had birthday parties for the kids,” said parent Adeline Walker. “Guess where it was — in the cafeteria, where all the toxins were the strongest.”

Two years after the school was shuttered, the state Health Department said it is close to finishing its report on the health risks.

Parents and students are anxious to get the results, but were shocked to learn that the Department of Education has slowed the process. A state Health Department representative described the DOE as “being squirrelly” about tracking down all the people who might’ve been exposed.

Those who know for sure that they were exposed would like some help immediately.

“Give us at least what the teachers are getting. The teachers are getting medical monitoring and they’re getting a registry,” said parent Alan Gary. “Here we’re trying to get them to reach out to us, and the city is fighting with the Department of Health about giving the names of past students.”

Some of the past students attended a meeting about cleaning up the site, hoping to glean something about the health risks – if any.

Late Wednesday afternoon, a spokesman claimed lawsuits filed by a teacher and a former student have tied the Department of Education’s hands.

“We cannot comment on pending litigation” was all spokesman Devon Puglia would say.

None of the people who spoke to CBS 2 had yet filed lawsuits.

The old P.S. 51 was leased by the city in 1993. Critics said the Department of Education needs to conduct better environmental testing before allowing students to learn in former industrial sites.

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