A Friday night hearing into how a drinking water supply at the Joseph E. Sibilly Elementary School and its James Monroe Annex became contaminated revealed no new information other than the fact that the government investigation has been stalled. The hearing into how volatile organic compounds and other contaminants worked their way into the drinking water at the two public schools was further complicated when key officials of the Education Department did not show up at the meeting called by the Senate Committee on Planning and Environmental Protection.
Officials of the Department of Planning and Natural Resources admitted to senators that the investigation into the contaminated drinking water supply was not complete.
Several senators expressed frustration that months after the contaminated water supply was discovered, parents, senators and officials still do not know what caused it and more importantly, what the effects will be.
Sen. Almando "Rocky" Liburd took exception to the testimony of Hollis Griffin, DPNR director of environmental protection services.
"Do you all have anything new to report since the last meeting?" Liburd asked. "I am very serious — is there new evidence or is this hearing going to be the same thing we have already heard?"
Senators learned Friday night that the Education Department employee who signed off on the water testing results at the Sibilly school resigned unexpectedly at the end of 1999. Jomo McClean has parted government service, senators were told, and another employee, Julie Mae Monsanto, who conducted the water sampling, did not attend the hearing.
Assistant Education Commissioner Noreen Michael, who arrived at the hearing more than a half-hour after it started, read a brief statement from Education Commissioner Ruby Simmonds who is off-island. The statement said testing was done at Sibilly in December and the water was deemed fit for human consumption.
But for parents at Friday's meeting, the testimony they heard was chilling. An environmental specialist told the committee, chaired by Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, that even minimal exposure to the chemicals found at Sibilly and Monroe can produce long-term health problems, including cancer, kidney and liver disorders and immune system disorders.
Jerome Ringo, an environmental consultant, testified that the test results
he has seen suggested the chemicals originated at a dry cleaning source.
Ringo called on DPNR staff to "look into a possible link." He told the committee,
"When there is a dry cleaning facility so close to the school, producing the
same chemicals as those found in the water, you cannot overlook the possibility
that this is the source."
In addressing the possible long-term effects of the contaminated water on those who consumed it, Ringo said, "It is not at all uncommon for health problems to develop 20 years down the road."
Ringos testimony led Sen. George Goodwin to suggest the need for a monitoring program to study the long-term effects on the students enrolled at the elementary school.
Donastorg ended the four-hour hearing stating his intent to circulate a petition among senators to subpoena the officials who failed to show up. Donastorg did not have the votes needed to subpoena the officials during the meeting.
Sen. Lorraine L. Berry characterized the no-show of education department officials as "a great disrespect for the process."