DOE leasing loophole allowed TCE-affected school to go unnoticed for years

School kids and teachers exposed to dangerously high levels of TCE for years at a Bronx school.

School kids and teachers exposed to dangerously high levels of TCE for years at a Bronx school.

Originally published on The Real Deal: New York City Real Estate News.

The story of a Bronx public school that for 20 years exposed its students to hazardous toxins suddenly has a real estate connection.

City Limits reported that a loophole in the Department of Education’s leasing policy left students, teachers, parents and school officials at P.S. 51, located at 3200 Jerome Avenue in Bedford Park, in the dark about the presence of trichloroethylene (TCE), a metal degreaser recently declared to be a carcinogen to humans, 10 times above safe exposure levels. In the soil vapor just below the first-floor cafeteria, TCE levels are nearly 10,000 times above safe levels.

The DOE loophole allows for schools on rented sites to bypass the toxic assessment that city-owned properties undergo regularly. As a result, in the years since parents chose the industrial warehouse for a school in 1991, and the city paid for its renovation, there was no word of the the building’s history. Its owners, Rinzler Family Limited Partnership, had leased it out to a lamp manufacturer, and the property had four 550-gallon gasoline tanks buried underneath its grounds.

“We questioned [the Board of Education] thoroughly about the site because it was in an industrial location,” said Beverly Falk, the schools founding teacher-director. “The city assured us it was safe.”

However, the EPA had put the site on a watchlist for producing hazardous chemicals before it ever became a school. In January, the Department of Education became aware of the toxins as it performed an inspection in advance of a potential lease renewal yet didn’t inform parents until the spring.

In August, the school did its best to move on from the scandal, signing a 20-year lease for a new facility in Crotona.

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