Rep. David Segal and other members of the Rhode Island General Assembly are proposing legislation to ensure that public schools in Rhode Island are built on non-toxic land. The legislation is scheduled to be introduced on February 28, 2008. The text of the bill is available here.
Several new schools, including the Adelaide Avenue High School and the Springfield Street School, have been dealing with lingering questions and problems due to the fact that they were built on sites that were formerly used for toxic dumping. We need to do a better job evaluating sites for public schools and ensuring that no history of toxic use is going to make the public school an unsafe place for children and adults.
Fortunately, there is national movement on this issue. The Bush administration recently established federal guidelines to protect school sitings from toxic contamination. More information on this is available here.
Rhode Island Legal Services provided the following information on the proposed legislation:
Support H-7577, A Bill to Promote the Selection of Environmentally Safe School Sites
Bi-partisan bill sponsored by Representatives Segal, Diaz, Moffitt, McNamara, Slater
Cash strapped school districts across Rhode Island are building schools on contaminated sites, putting children and teachers at risk of exposure to harmful pollutants. This legislation consists of two reforms that would ensure that local school districts do not site schools on property that is contaminated by pollution left on the site as a result of former industrial or commercial uses:
Section 1 of the legislation bars the use of state school construction aid dollars for cleaning up hazardous materials (other than petroleum) at a site. School districts in RI have chosen to site schools on contaminated sites because they are cheap to acquire–and the cost of cleaning them up has been passed on to the State. School construction funds were never intended to be used to clean up pollutionâ€”either polluters should pay for clean ups or there are Brownfields clean up funds for that purpose. Currently, RI Department of Education regulations deem costs for cleaning up contaminated sites as presumptively not reimbursable by the state. This legislation takes that one step further and bars the use of any state school construction aid for the purpose of cleaning up contamination (“remediation”) at a given site.
Section 2 of the legislation bars the siting of schools on certain kinds of contaminated sites. These sites include garbage dumps, which state law identifies as any site where more than 3 cubic yards of hazardous or solid waste was disposed; and also, includes sites formerly used for industrial or commercial purposes that are too contaminated to be used for residential purposes without any clean up, and where the likely source of contamination is from a former use at the site. Currently there are no restrictions on using contaminated sites for schools.
If enacted several years ago, this legislation would have prevented the siting of schools such as the Carnevale Elementary and Springfield Middle Schools (built on the site of the former Providence City Dump), the Adelaide Avenue High School (built on the site of the highly contaminated Gorham Silver Manufacturing Company), and would prevent the siting of the Woonsocket Middle School proposed to be built on the polluted Hamlet Avenue Mill Complex site.
There is also this informative report from Rhode Island Legal Services and the Center for Health, Environment, and Justice, which outlines why Rhode Island needs to work on avoiding placing schools on or near contaminated land.