Explosion releases PCB's at Southington High School

By Wendy Moravec

In September of 2000, the master clock system at Southington High School malfunctioned and released PCB fluids (polychlorinated biphenyl) that ignited a fire and released dioxins into the air.

Students arriving at school that day were sent back home and a massive clean-up began that involved the fire dept and the DEP. Accusations were hurled back and forth, and it was discovered that the clock manufacturers had warned the school board that a failure could occur and that dangerous PCB's might be released.

Graphic stolen from GE's PCB clean-up site. See also http://www.hudsonwatch.net/mainpage.html for another opinion.

Because my sister is a student at the school and I had just begun this environmental class, I became interested in what PCB's are and what damage they can cause. PCB's are in a class of synthetic organic compounds such as halogenated hydrocarbons. In high doses the effects may be acute poisoning and death and even in low doses over extended time, the effects can be mutagenic (mutation causing), carcinogenic (cancer causing), or teratogenic (birth defect causing).

These compounds are often readily absorbed by the body and accumulate and can cause serious damage to organs like the kidneys and liver.

The visible damage to the school appeared to only affect the kitchen, basement and girls locker rooms but testinf indicated that fumes and fine particles had entered the ventilation system and settled all over the scholl on desks, books and other equipment.

Parents were in a panic, students were scared and the school board talked about shutting the school and busing kids away. The estimates for cleaning up were skyrocketing and the state finally had to come in and promise assistance.

Over the Labor Day weekend, reports came back that indicated the levels of PCB's were not as bad as feared and school reopened quickly, with only a few sections of the scholl being sectioned off.

Visiting the school shortly after this incident, I was not impressed with the fact that the sectioned off areas merely had red netting strung across doorways and corridors. Parents and students alike were uneasy with the fact that every day after school, clenup crews came in, masked and suited-up to finish the clean-up. School Board officials swore that none of the students were in danger and the hubbub slowly died down.

Several years ago, the schools in Connecticut spent millions of dollars taking asbestos out of classroom walls and furnace rooms and it is situations like the asbestos and the masterclock explosion that make you wonder just how safe schools and other public meeting places really are.

It also makes you wonder who is responsible for keeping building materials and equipment safe for these public buildings and even for private homes!?

Submitted to and posted by Anthony Benoit
May 15, 2001

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