Wait and see

Aug 8, 2001 at 12:00 am

Oh, what to make of the Detroit Public Schools and the recent glitch in its plans to plow ahead with the opening of Beard Elementary school on the city’s southwest side?

Here’s the latest in a series of troubles: The school district initially removed soil from the site in an attempt to rid it of toxic waste. DPS and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality then retested the site for PCBs. Before obtaining the DEQ’s results, the DPS — ignoring the requests of parents and community activists —capped the area with 4-to-8-inches of crushed concrete — and poured concrete in some areas — and topped off that barrier with 8 inches of soil.

The community was trying to save DPS the time and expense of having to remove the barrier if test results showed that the PCB levels were still dangerously high.

DPS went ahead anyway, confident that its own tests showing PCB levels at an acceptable 1.4 parts per million were accurate.

But last week, DEQ results showed PCB levels in two spots were 14 parts per million — 10 times higher than the DPS findings, according Billie Hickey, project manager for the group Southwest Detroit Environmental Vision.

Hickey says she visited the school last week and saw part of the concrete barrier being ripped up so that new soil samples could be obtained.

“We asked them to wait for the test results before capping it,” said Hickey. “It apparently fell on deaf ears.”

But Bob Francis, in charge of capital improvements for DPS, says that the state had instructed the school district to construct the barrier. Francis also says that after 263 soil tests, this is the first time that there has been a discrepancy between the DPS and DEQ results. He does not know why that’s so, but said soil samples will be sent to new labs for further testing. And the school won’t open until the DPS is convinced that the soil is safe, assures Francis.

It isn’t just the DPS that has to be convinced. Parents filed an injunction in federal court last month asking that the school not open until the parents are certain the site is safe. A hearing is scheduled for Aug. 13 at 11:30 a.m. before U.S. District Court Judge Denise Page Hood. See you there.

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