- File ©️ Seven Days
- A sign warning of PCBs outside Burlington High School in 2021
Because only 10 days of school remained, state officials said it would be OK to use the rooms not on the third floor to complete the year. One attendee asked who was going to pay for the extensive, costly work the school district now faces to address the root problem.
“The answer to that is in flux right now,” said Patricia Coppolino, senior environmental program manager for the Department of Environmental Conservation.
Related Chemical Crossroads: Lawmakers Consider Pausing Vermont's Ambitious, Costly and One-of-a-Kind Plan to Address PCBs in Schools
Only about a quarter of the 321 public and independent schools eligible have been tested so far, Coppolino and state toxicologist Sarah Owen said. Of those, around 30 percent had PCB levels that must be addressed.
- State officials at Green Mountain Union High School on June 7
PCB remediation is expensive. At Cabot School , where elevated levels of airborne PCBs were discovered in the gymnasium last fall, Caledonia Central Supervisory Union superintendent Mark Tucker said it may cost $250,000 just to remove PCB-containing paint from the gym ceiling. It could be cheaper to replace the entire roof. And that’s just one school.
- File: Jeb Wallace Brodeur ©️ Seven Days
- Cabot School
Meanwhile, Brighton Elementary School, also in Collins’ district, recently learned it has elevated levels of PCBs in several classrooms. As a result, the school ended its prekindergarten program in May, a month earlier than planned. And there's still uncertainty as to whether elementary students will be able to be in the building five days a week next school year, Collins said.
House Committee on Education Chair Peter Conlon (D-Cornwall) pushed unsuccessfully to pause the testing so that it could be better integrated with other school construction initiatives. Since the state is pushing for testing, he said, it should plan to fund the cleanup.
Sen. Dick McCormack (D-Windsor), who attended the Green Mountain Union High School forum, urged community members to be patient with the bureaucratic process.
“I’m going to have to ask people to bear with the discomfort of uncertainty,” McCormack said. “I can say we’re not going to drop the issue — I can say that with certainty.”
Rep. Heather Chase (D-Chester), who was also there, forecast the long road that her community — and others — will likely face. “I don’t know that there’s a quick fix,” Chase warned, “but let’s hang in there together and work through this.”