Sick and tired

Some construction workers exposed to contaminated soil at the site of the new Beard Elementary School on Detroit’s southwest side say they have been experiencing nausea, diarrhea, cramps, sore ribs, fatigue and rashes. Could it be from the arsenic-laced soil there?

Not a chance, say school officials. Several workers aren’t so certain.

About 100 workers walked off the job last Wednesday after meeting with Detroit Public School officials about their health problems and the arsenic contained in the soil. A company hired by the school district was brought in to test for arsenic that same day. Most of the workers returned Thursday after test results showed the soil did not contain hazardous levels of arsenic, according to school officials.

“It’s apparent that the illnesses they contracted would not and should not have come from exposure on that site, at least not the soil,” said Cleophus Boyd Jr., who heads community and corporate affairs for DPS Program Management Team.

News Hits talked to seven workers who said they experienced similar symptoms. All the men requested that they not be identified, saying they feared retaliation. A few said they would not return to the site. “Something’s not right,” said one worker, who told of nausea, diarrhea, fatigue and sore ribs the same week he started work at the job. He also said he was told when he began the assignment to change his clothes and shower before returning home or hugging his kids. Other workers, who reported similar ailments, said they were provided the same information.

Richard Gaber, business agent for Plumbers Local 98, confirmed that several plumbers and iron workers complained of nausea and rashes prior to the arsenic testing. Last Friday — the day after test results were announced — two more workers developed rashes, said Gaber. Richard Schleyer, DPS-PMT environmental manager, says that those with rashes were asked to have a urine analysis done to determine if arsenic is the cause. Schleyer also said that some workers complained of odors on the site, which is now being monitored by an environmentalist.

This is not the first controversy involving the site. Parents protested when they learned last fall that the new Beard School was being constructed on grounds contaminated not only with arsenic, but lead, PCBs and other toxic material.

One of the workers who spoke with News Hits said he complained about the problem in an attempt to raise public awareness about the school site, which is scheduled to open in September of this year.

“Our main concern is the kids,” he said.

Ann Mullen contributed to News Hits, which is edited by Curt Guyette. He can be reached at 313-202-8004 or [email protected]
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