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Charlotte Amalie
Monday, August 15, 2022
HomeNewsArchivesSIBILLY PARENTS STILL WANT ANSWERS, COMMITMENTS

SIBILLY PARENTS STILL WANT ANSWERS, COMMITMENTS

Parents at Joseph Sibilly Elementary School made it clear to a panel of government officials Sunday that they don't trust the government.
"Now, more than ever, I as a parent distrust government," said Vinod Mohanani, who has two children at the school.
Education Commissioner Ruby Simmonds called Sunday's meeting to try to address unanswered questions about reports leaked to the press Aug. 21 and later verified by Education that the drinking water at Sibilly School and its annex, James Monroe, was contaminated with volatile organic chemicals.
Christine Lottes, supervisor of the Public Water Supervision Program in the Planning and Natural Resources Division of Environmental Protection; Dr. Audria Thomas, acting director of Environmental Health for the Health Department, and a pediatrician were at Sunday's meeting to reassure parents that the health of their children was of utmost concern.
Thomas said appropriate testing for contaminants will be done at the school on the children and staff.
Lottes said the "levels detected were not of a level where long-term effects should be expected."
But parents weren't satisfied. They wanted to know if studies had been done where all eight of the chemicals found in the water had been ingested.
Lottes said they had not, to her knowledge.
The other overwhelming concern was why they, as parents, hadn't been informed when the chemicals were first detected.
The word "coverup" was used by a parent. Tregenza Roach, Education legal counsel, revealed in the spirit of openness that the water had been tested as far back as December 1998.
But the lab in the states, he said, sent a letter saying the samples were contaminated and new samples should be taken. That was done four months later on April 19.
A reliable source has told St. Thomas Source that some of the chemicals found in the June testing had also been found in the December test.
The source also said the June tests were done as a result of the findings of the April tests.
What was still unclear was who saw the April results and why parents weren't notified then.
Jomo McClean, Education plants and maintenance administrator, said at a Tuesday meeting that he had known since around July 20 of the results of testing done in June, but denied having known anything about the April tests.
However, Julie Mae Monsanto, an Education environmental specialist, told the parents Sunday that when tests come back with any irregularities, it is her procedure to notify her supervisor. When pressed for who that was, she indicated it was McClean.
Simmonds said she knew nothing until Aug. 10 when she received a letter from DPNR. She said she would make sure this never happened again.
"Many things come across my desk," she said. "Those that are urgent are usually flagged."
Simmonds assured parents they would be kept informed, copies of reports would be made available to them and they would be welcome to send representatives to any future meetings between Education, DPNR and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Parents asked that more federal officials be involved, that future samples be taken by an outside laboratory and that wells in the Tutu area, where some of the trucked water may have come from and where similar chemicals were found many years ago in groundwater due to leaking chemicals from a dry cleaning operation and leaking gas tanks, be tested immediately.
Also on Sunday's panel for the government were Hollis Griffin, director of DPNR's Environmental Protection Division, and Rosalia Payne, St. Thomas-St. John District insular schools superintendent.
Editors' note: See "Questions left unanswered at Sibilly" and "Sibilly School to reopen Monday" for further background.

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Parents at Joseph Sibilly Elementary School made it clear to a panel of government officials Sunday that they don't trust the government.
"Now, more than ever, I as a parent distrust government," said Vinod Mohanani, who has two children at the school.
Education Commissioner Ruby Simmonds called Sunday's meeting to try to address unanswered questions about reports leaked to the press Aug. 21 and later verified by Education that the drinking water at Sibilly School and its annex, James Monroe, was contaminated with volatile organic chemicals.
Christine Lottes, supervisor of the Public Water Supervision Program in the Planning and Natural Resources Division of Environmental Protection; Dr. Audria Thomas, acting director of Environmental Health for the Health Department, and a pediatrician were at Sunday's meeting to reassure parents that the health of their children was of utmost concern.
Thomas said appropriate testing for contaminants will be done at the school on the children and staff.
Lottes said the "levels detected were not of a level where long-term effects should be expected."
But parents weren't satisfied. They wanted to know if studies had been done where all eight of the chemicals found in the water had been ingested.
Lottes said they had not, to her knowledge.
The other overwhelming concern was why they, as parents, hadn't been informed when the chemicals were first detected.
The word "coverup" was used by a parent. Tregenza Roach, Education legal counsel, revealed in the spirit of openness that the water had been tested as far back as December 1998.
But the lab in the states, he said, sent a letter saying the samples were contaminated and new samples should be taken. That was done four months later on April 19.
A reliable source has told St. Thomas Source that some of the chemicals found in the June testing had also been found in the December test.
The source also said the June tests were done as a result of the findings of the April tests.
What was still unclear was who saw the April results and why parents weren't notified then.
Jomo McClean, Education plants and maintenance administrator, said at a Tuesday meeting that he had known since around July 20 of the results of testing done in June, but denied having known anything about the April tests.
However, Julie Mae Monsanto, an Education environmental specialist, told the parents Sunday that when tests come back with any irregularities, it is her procedure to notify her supervisor. When pressed for who that was, she indicated it was McClean.
Simmonds said she knew nothing until Aug. 10 when she received a letter from DPNR. She said she would make sure this never happened again.
"Many things come across my desk," she said. "Those that are urgent are usually flagged."
Simmonds assured parents they would be kept informed, copies of reports would be made available to them and they would be welcome to send representatives to any future meetings between Education, DPNR and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Parents asked that more federal officials be involved, that future samples be taken by an outside laboratory and that wells in the Tutu area, where some of the trucked water may have come from and where similar chemicals were found many years ago in groundwater due to leaking chemicals from a dry cleaning operation and leaking gas tanks, be tested immediately.
Also on Sunday's panel for the government were Hollis Griffin, director of DPNR's Environmental Protection Division, and Rosalia Payne, St. Thomas-St. John District insular schools superintendent.
Editors' note: See "Questions left unanswered at Sibilly" and "Sibilly School to reopen Monday" for further background.