EHS Cleanup: Public remains concerned about health impacts
ELMIRA, N.Y. (WENY) -- Community members in Elmira had the chance to speak directly with Health Department officials from New York State Thursday evening regarding the ongoing cleanup project at Elmira High School.
As WENY News has reported, contaminated soil and other materials were discovered under parts of the school, specifically the southeast parking lot, and football field complex.
Remediation work was done over the summer, including a cleanup of the southeast parking lot. According to a DEC notice from November 2018 addressed to Elmira residents, the contaminated soil from below the parking lot was removed, replaced with backfill clean soil.
The school was built on the former Sperry Remington industrial site. Unisys, the company which took over the site, is now responsible for the cleanup after an agreement with the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).
Despite the ongoing cleanup efforts, community concern remains high.
"There is a tremendous amount of PCB - contaminated soil - still here, both around and under the building. There were TCE soil gas vapors above the acceptable levels prior to 2014. So I was exposed to that for a long time; breathing that day after day after day...you gotta wonder what affect that has," says Debb VanDelinder, a former art teacher with the district for more than two decades.
Debb tells WENY News, she not only has personal health concerns, but concerns for others possibly impacted too.
"I've had a lot of students who've been sick, with various cancers and autoimmune illnesses and reproductive illnesses and all kinds of crazy things at young ages. People under 40 shouldn't be getting these types of cancers," she explains.
The last health survey, according to state health officials, was done in the 2000's, and those results did find something, but were limited.
"The health studies that were done did not find elevated rates of anything except for testicular cancer in one particular group of students that were actually -- did not have enough latency -- enough period of time for the cancer....so it didn't necessarily add up that that was cause and effect," says Dr. Gary Ginsberg, Director of the Center for Environmental Health for the NYS Dept. of Health.
Now, the public is calling for an updated health survey for the most up-to-date information.
"Well you know the public has been very suspicious about these illnesses being related to the school. And I really feel strongly that there needs to be studies taken, honestly of both the staff members and the students," VanDelinder says.
"We don't have an immediate plan for another study, but that's why we're here tonight," Dr. Ginsberg explains.
During the informational session Thursday night, community members were encouraged to fill out a form on a green card indicating specific health concerns.
Community members in attendance were urging officials to expand the survey reach by having online accessibility. School officials say Thursday's meeting is a starting point, with more community engagement expected to happen in the future.
"People can write down what they're health concerns are on this in-take survey and we'll look for patterns and common concerns and see what next steps need to be taken in terms of additional evaluation," adds Dr. Ginsberg.
Additional (background) information about the cleanup progress through the NYS DEC can be found here: https://www.dec.ny.gov/chemical/102390.html
If you have questions or concerns, you're encouraged to reach out to officials.
Tim Schneider, P.E.
NYSDEC Project Manager
Region 8 Office
6274 East Avon-Lima Road
Avon, NY 14414
Dawn Hettrick, P.E.
NYS Dept. of Health
Empire State Plaza
Corning Tower, Room #1787
Albany, NY 12237