STONINGTON — Members of the K-12 Building Committee considered two options for removing hazardous building materials from West Vine and Deans Mill Schools Tuesday but will postpone their decision until they have a full picture of the technical liability and long-term costs.
The two schools contain trace amounts of polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, in the caulking around the windows. The chemicals were widely used in construction materials before 1979 and large amounts can cause harmful effects on humans’ immune, reproductive, nervous and endocrine systems.
Matthew Myers, a senior hazmat specialist at Langan Engineering in New Haven, told the committee that his tests showed less than 1 part per million of PCBs in the schools, which is considered a safe level by the Environmental Protection Agency, and that he didn’t expect higher levels to be found.
The first option, considered more stringent, would remove the caulking, the windows, and 18 inches of wall on each side of the windows. It would also involve chipping away an inch and a half of concrete from the outer surface of the buildings’ columns, which would expose rebar underneath.
Removing the columns’ outer concrete shell and exposing the rebar creates the risk of finding unacceptably high levels of PCBs underneath and trying to remove any of the rebar would compromise the structural integrity of the building.
“You’re opening Pandora’s box by doing that,” said Charles Warrington Jr., senior project manager with Colliers International in Madison, who is the town’s project manager for the renovation of the two schools.
The second method, known as encapsulation, would first remove the caulking and then cover and seal all adjacent surfaces, effectively stopping any movement of PCBs. Approval from the Environmental Protection Agency would be required, which could slow down the process, said Myers. Ongoing air testing would also be required, adding to the long-term cost of the option.
Myers and Warrington talked about estimated costs for the two options, but Rob Marseglia, committee chair, asked for an “apples to apples” comparison of the two methods, including technical liability and all short- and long-term costs.
“We need clarity on this — a written comparison of the two options, with technical and cost aspects of each,” he said.
Superintendent Van Riley asked for a written comparison he could share with the Board of Education’s attorney. The K-12 committee has also hired an environmental attorney to review the abatement options.
Warrington said he would need an answer from the committee regarding which option to pursue by the end of August, especially because encapsulation requires environmental agency approval, which could take at least six months.
Safety will be the ultimate deciding factor in the committte’s choice, Marseglia said.
“Safety is paramount to us as a building committee and then the cost will work itself from there,” he said.
Testing to determine how much hazardous material needs to be removed is underway and removal is scheduled for next summer.