Monday, November 12, 2007

Arsenic at My Neighborhood School

In March of 2007 the Natural Resources Defense Council found that six schools in New Orleans tested high for arsenic in the soil. The LA Department of Environmental Quality recommends that levels should be no higher than 12 milligrams of arsenic per kilogram of soil. My neighborhood school, John Dibert Elementary, tested 22.8 mg/kg. I asked the Recovery School District about this, and received a report from July that said “Sample results indicate that arithmetic mean arsenic concentrations in soil at each school are below the state background level of 12 mg/kg for arsenic in soil and well below risk-based levels of concern for children." However, there is something alarming in the details. First the good news, the other schools tested low and their students seem to be out of danger. But at Dibert, 8 samples were taken. Sure enough, 6 tested low. But two samples at Dibert were above the safe range of 12 mg/kg. One was 16.6, and one (sample 8) actually tested 40 mg/kg. I've asked to find out where sample 8 is located, and we can at least tell students not to play in that area. But I'm amazed that the short answer is "everything is fine," even though one area had such a dangerously high level. Maybe I don't know enough about soil chemistry to have an informed opinion here.

I remember back in 2003 when Audubon Montessori had to close because the building tested positive for lead paint. I wonder why people aren't more alarmed about arsenic in the soil at Dibert, but I have some theories. Parents at Audubon represent a higher socio-economic class than those at Dibert. It's also post-Katrina New Orleans, and things that wouldn't have been acceptible before are not priorities now. But in the end I do hope that we can all work together to make Dibert a safe place for children to learn and grow.

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