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Charlotte Amalie
Friday, August 12, 2022
HomeNewsArchivesSIBILLY HEARING RAISES MORE QUESTIONS, DEMANDS

SIBILLY HEARING RAISES MORE QUESTIONS, DEMANDS

After five hours of testimony Thursday night, parents and others concerned about the water contamination problems at Joseph Sibilly School and its James Monroe Annex knew little more than they had known before.
Evelyn Ledee has one son who is a Sibilly graduate and three others who are current students there. One of the last persons to testify before the session adjourned just before midnight, she reflected the frustrations and fears of many who sat through the hearing when she demanded to see the water testing reports herself, saying, "At this point, I don't believe anything I am being told."
Similarly, Ann Arnold, a parent of two students and vice president of the Sibilly PTA, told members of the Senate Planning and Environmental Protection Committee, "I have been to three different meetings. At every meeting we've gotten different dates [regarding water testing] and different information."
The hearing, conducted by Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, the committee chair, determined, eventually, that the testing done since 1996 took place last December and on April 19, June 1 and June 29 of this year.
Planning and Natural Resources Commissioner Dean Plaskett ran down the list of volatile organic chemicals found in excess of maximum allowable levels in water taken from two cisterns at Sibilly and one at the annex. All, a number of authorities have said, are substances derived from petroleum products.
Donastorg repeatedly questioned witnesses about possible links between the Sibilly water situation and the Tutu well contamination of a decade ago. An investigation by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency determined that the Tutu water table had been contaminated by toxins from a dry cleaning operation and two gas stations in the area and ordered the wells sealed, an order which remains in effect today.
The contract for hauling water to the school is held by S&S Services in Smith Bay. Plaskett said PNR conducted tests on Aug. 30 of the S&S delivery trucks and the company's wells, and analysis of the water samples "indicate that the contamination could not have come from this company."
The closest thing to a bombshell that jarred the capacity crowd at the legislative chambers was testimony from Jerome Ringo, who identified himself as a Louisiana petrochemicals expert and environmental consultant who has provided expert testimony in several multimillion-dollar civil cases on the mainland involving toxic contamination.
After the list of VOCs found in excessive amounts in the Sibilly water was read into the record, he said: "All of these chemicals are dry cleaning fluids — everything on this list is related to dry cleaning."
Hollis Griffin, head of PNR's Envionmental Protection Division, has said gasoline is being considered as one possible source of the contamination. The PNR investigation is continuing.
Ringo also contradicted earlier testimony from Christine Lottes, water supervisor for PNR's Environmental Protection Division, and James Casey of the EPA to the effect that since the students' exposure to the contaminants was "short-term," it was unlikely that there would be any long-term effects. Casey later said the EPA considered long-term exposure to be "about a year or more."
"You should be very careful in writing off people and saying that short-term exposure does not mean long-term problems," Ringo said.
His further comment that such conclusions are based on testing done "on laboratory rats, not on humans," prompted the loudest applause of the evening from Sibilly parents in the audience.
Casey noted that the evaluative scales used in assessing contamination effects assume that one pupil typically consumes one liter of water per day at school. Education Commissioner Ruby Simmonds said since the start of school the department has provided purified drinking water as well as portable tanks of water for hygiene purposes. Further, she said, many pupils bring their own drinking water to school.
Early in the hearing, Plaskett offered a surprise acknowledgement that PNR bore some responsibility in the evolution of the water problems. The testing of cistern water conducted at the Sibilly School and annex last December was the first such testing since 1996, he and Simmonds and members of their staffs testified. This was in compliance with federal Clean Water Act regulations requiring such testing at least once every three years in cases where no contaminants above allowable levels are detected, they said.
The samples collected in December were sent to Michigan for analysis, but the laboratory there reported back that the submitted vials containing the water had been "compromised" and their contents could not be used for testing.
Who in the territory knew this when is a matter of speculation at this point, but Plaskett said PNR should have taken action in February simply because Education had not submitted the findings of the December testing within 40 days of the date the samples were collected, as required by law.
"We were negligent in not issuing a notice of violation for four months," he said. "If we had done so, this thing would have come to a head a lot sooner." Later in the evening, he amended the reference to "a notice of non-compliance for failure to report."
Plaskett said PNR has issued nine to 10 orders to Education during his tenure since February regarding enforcement of the Clean Water Act, not just at Sibilly School. These, he said, have included directives to empty, clean, treat and refill cisterns, cut trees and bush and screen downspouts at schools.
He said at one point of PNR: "We are the regulators. It is not our obligation or our responsibility to tell any agency, public or private, how to comply with the law."
Sen. Norman Jn.-Baptiste pressed concerns he raised last weekend after visiting the Monroe Annex on Sept. 1. He said he had been told that water taps had been taped, but when he turned the knob on a drinking fountain, "the water gushed out."
Plaskett said annex septic tank and pump room conditions include extreme corrosion, and the holding tank cover needs to be repaired or replaced.
No one at the hearing brought up the fact that different combinations of volatile organic chemicals were found at the two sites.
Sen. Lorraine Berry, noting that contradictory information has been bombarding the public, said the investigation must go beyond how the contaminants got into the water to "those who didn't do their jobs," what the potential health effects are, and what is going to be done about the situation "to ensure that it will never happen again."
The technical and political exchanges concluded around 10:30 p.m. Then, as several schoolchildren as well as adults were nodding at their seats, Sibilly parents and others in the audience got their chance to testify.
Alli Paul, who once occupied a Senate seat himself as the youngest person ever elected to the Legislature, spoke for more than 15 minutes about his daughter Morgan, who has advanced leukemia and is a patient at St. Jude's Children's Hospital on the mainland. Brandishing a photograph of the girl, he attributed her medical condition to her exposure to "petrochemical contamination" as a student at Sibilly School.
"Every one of these chemicals is cancer causing," he charged, referring to the volatile organic chemicals detected in the cistern water. No government official present responded to his charges.
Dolores Clendinen, a parent of one son, said officials cannot claim that the students' exposure to the toxic substances has been short term based on the April test results, "because the last previous test was in 1996." She called on Education to close the school and the annex at once and send the pupils "to other schools on double sessions until we get the source of the contamination."
A Mr. Huggins said it
was his belief that the source at Sibilly "may be right in that building," on the roof. He said that T-111 wood was used beneath the galvanized panels in the construction of the school roof, and the wood "is treated with arsenic and bichronate of potassium," which are both toxic.
Dr. Audria Thomas, Health Department acting health director, who is overseeing the physical examination and blood testing of Sibilly students and employees, said 45 more youngsters were tested at the Roy L. Schneider Hospital on Thursday, the second day of testing.
Sibilly Principal Dora Hill said the testing is scheduled to be completed by next Tuesday, and that Wednesday former students from as far back as 1996 will be tested. Hill said she had been contacted by the parents or guardians of 18 former pupils wanting to have their children tested. In 1996-99 four classes have graduated from the school; with about 40 students each, they would comprise some 160 former Sibilly students.

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After five hours of testimony Thursday night, parents and others concerned about the water contamination problems at Joseph Sibilly School and its James Monroe Annex knew little more than they had known before.
Evelyn Ledee has one son who is a Sibilly graduate and three others who are current students there. One of the last persons to testify before the session adjourned just before midnight, she reflected the frustrations and fears of many who sat through the hearing when she demanded to see the water testing reports herself, saying, "At this point, I don't believe anything I am being told."
Similarly, Ann Arnold, a parent of two students and vice president of the Sibilly PTA, told members of the Senate Planning and Environmental Protection Committee, "I have been to three different meetings. At every meeting we've gotten different dates [regarding water testing] and different information."
The hearing, conducted by Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, the committee chair, determined, eventually, that the testing done since 1996 took place last December and on April 19, June 1 and June 29 of this year.
Planning and Natural Resources Commissioner Dean Plaskett ran down the list of volatile organic chemicals found in excess of maximum allowable levels in water taken from two cisterns at Sibilly and one at the annex. All, a number of authorities have said, are substances derived from petroleum products.
Donastorg repeatedly questioned witnesses about possible links between the Sibilly water situation and the Tutu well contamination of a decade ago. An investigation by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency determined that the Tutu water table had been contaminated by toxins from a dry cleaning operation and two gas stations in the area and ordered the wells sealed, an order which remains in effect today.
The contract for hauling water to the school is held by S&S Services in Smith Bay. Plaskett said PNR conducted tests on Aug. 30 of the S&S delivery trucks and the company's wells, and analysis of the water samples "indicate that the contamination could not have come from this company."
The closest thing to a bombshell that jarred the capacity crowd at the legislative chambers was testimony from Jerome Ringo, who identified himself as a Louisiana petrochemicals expert and environmental consultant who has provided expert testimony in several multimillion-dollar civil cases on the mainland involving toxic contamination.
After the list of VOCs found in excessive amounts in the Sibilly water was read into the record, he said: "All of these chemicals are dry cleaning fluids -- everything on this list is related to dry cleaning."
Hollis Griffin, head of PNR's Envionmental Protection Division, has said gasoline is being considered as one possible source of the contamination. The PNR investigation is continuing.
Ringo also contradicted earlier testimony from Christine Lottes, water supervisor for PNR's Environmental Protection Division, and James Casey of the EPA to the effect that since the students' exposure to the contaminants was "short-term," it was unlikely that there would be any long-term effects. Casey later said the EPA considered long-term exposure to be "about a year or more."
"You should be very careful in writing off people and saying that short-term exposure does not mean long-term problems," Ringo said.
His further comment that such conclusions are based on testing done "on laboratory rats, not on humans," prompted the loudest applause of the evening from Sibilly parents in the audience.
Casey noted that the evaluative scales used in assessing contamination effects assume that one pupil typically consumes one liter of water per day at school. Education Commissioner Ruby Simmonds said since the start of school the department has provided purified drinking water as well as portable tanks of water for hygiene purposes. Further, she said, many pupils bring their own drinking water to school.
Early in the hearing, Plaskett offered a surprise acknowledgement that PNR bore some responsibility in the evolution of the water problems. The testing of cistern water conducted at the Sibilly School and annex last December was the first such testing since 1996, he and Simmonds and members of their staffs testified. This was in compliance with federal Clean Water Act regulations requiring such testing at least once every three years in cases where no contaminants above allowable levels are detected, they said.
The samples collected in December were sent to Michigan for analysis, but the laboratory there reported back that the submitted vials containing the water had been "compromised" and their contents could not be used for testing.
Who in the territory knew this when is a matter of speculation at this point, but Plaskett said PNR should have taken action in February simply because Education had not submitted the findings of the December testing within 40 days of the date the samples were collected, as required by law.
"We were negligent in not issuing a notice of violation for four months," he said. "If we had done so, this thing would have come to a head a lot sooner." Later in the evening, he amended the reference to "a notice of non-compliance for failure to report."
Plaskett said PNR has issued nine to 10 orders to Education during his tenure since February regarding enforcement of the Clean Water Act, not just at Sibilly School. These, he said, have included directives to empty, clean, treat and refill cisterns, cut trees and bush and screen downspouts at schools.
He said at one point of PNR: "We are the regulators. It is not our obligation or our responsibility to tell any agency, public or private, how to comply with the law."
Sen. Norman Jn.-Baptiste pressed concerns he raised last weekend after visiting the Monroe Annex on Sept. 1. He said he had been told that water taps had been taped, but when he turned the knob on a drinking fountain, "the water gushed out."
Plaskett said annex septic tank and pump room conditions include extreme corrosion, and the holding tank cover needs to be repaired or replaced.
No one at the hearing brought up the fact that different combinations of volatile organic chemicals were found at the two sites.
Sen. Lorraine Berry, noting that contradictory information has been bombarding the public, said the investigation must go beyond how the contaminants got into the water to "those who didn't do their jobs," what the potential health effects are, and what is going to be done about the situation "to ensure that it will never happen again."
The technical and political exchanges concluded around 10:30 p.m. Then, as several schoolchildren as well as adults were nodding at their seats, Sibilly parents and others in the audience got their chance to testify.
Alli Paul, who once occupied a Senate seat himself as the youngest person ever elected to the Legislature, spoke for more than 15 minutes about his daughter Morgan, who has advanced leukemia and is a patient at St. Jude's Children's Hospital on the mainland. Brandishing a photograph of the girl, he attributed her medical condition to her exposure to "petrochemical contamination" as a student at Sibilly School.
"Every one of these chemicals is cancer causing," he charged, referring to the volatile organic chemicals detected in the cistern water. No government official present responded to his charges.
Dolores Clendinen, a parent of one son, said officials cannot claim that the students' exposure to the toxic substances has been short term based on the April test results, "because the last previous test was in 1996." She called on Education to close the school and the annex at once and send the pupils "to other schools on double sessions until we get the source of the contamination."
A Mr. Huggins said it was his belief that the source at Sibilly "may be right in that building," on the roof. He said that T-111 wood was used beneath the galvanized panels in the construction of the school roof, and the wood "is treated with arsenic and bichronate of potassium," which are both toxic.
Dr. Audria Thomas, Health Department acting health director, who is overseeing the physical examination and blood testing of Sibilly students and employees, said 45 more youngsters were tested at the Roy L. Schneider Hospital on Thursday, the second day of testing.
Sibilly Principal Dora Hill said the testing is scheduled to be completed by next Tuesday, and that Wednesday former students from as far back as 1996 will be tested. Hill said she had been contacted by the parents or guardians of 18 former pupils wanting to have their children tested. In 1996-99 four classes have graduated from the school; with about 40 students each, they would comprise some 160 former Sibilly students.