Burlington School Board takes up new PCB guidance

Published: Dec. 7, 2021 at 11:42 PM EST|Updated: Dec. 8, 2021 at 6:25 AM EST
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - The Burlington School Board took up the issue of cancer-causing PCBs at their meeting Tuesday night. This is the first time they’ve met since the Vermont Department of Health issued new recommendations.

Burlington Superintendent Tom Flanagan said they still need more information about the new guidance, but students will hopefully be in a new building by August 2025.

New guidance from the Department of Health recommending when schools should take action about cancer-causing PCBs was released in mid-November.

Burlington School Board members said they were caught off guard by the changes.

”I’m not too pleased, to be quite honest, with the state agencies who indicated this was somewhat whimsical and shouldn’t be judged in retrospect,” Jeffrey Wick, a school board commissioner, said. “We had no choice.”

State regulators are now saying buildings are safe with up to 100 nanograms per cubic meter of PCBs in the air.

The Burlington High School site on Institute Road closed abruptly last fall when that recommended number was only 15.

“We know these action levels give us a sense of what is acceptable in the area as it related to how many PCBs can be in the air, but we also know we have PCBs in the building materials,”

Flanagan said even with the updated guidance, about 30% of rooms at the Institute Road site are still unsafe.

Only one person was at Tuesday night’s meeting to voice concerns. Burlington resident Dave Marr said they should use what buildings they can instead of building a whole new site.

“They’re perfectly good buildings. It would be a shame to tear them down and build replacements,” Marr said. “It’s a waste of money.”

School board commissioners said they are still planning for a new site, but won’t be making any major investments until they know more about these new guidelines.

”I think we have a fiduciary responsibility that we find out as much as we can about how much of that old campus is habitable and reusable,” commissioner Mike Fisher said.

Commissioners said a list of questions was sent to regulatory agencies, like the Department of Health, last week. As of Tuesday, there hasn’t been a response.

This is expected to be discussed again next week. Commissioners said hopefully they’ll have more information by then.

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