Testify for Building Schools on Safe Land

There will be a hearing this Wednesday, March 26, from 4:00 to 5:00 pm in Room 135 of the State House, on a bi-partisan bill to stop building schools on contaminated land in Rhode Island. The bill is controversial (as evidenced in this post by Alex Moore on RIFuture.org and the ensuing discussion) in that Woonsocket is currently in the process of building a new middle school on a remediated site, and members of the community there want to maintain control over their project and move forward. It is unclear how this issue will be dealt with — some have suggested that strategically, it might make sense to make an exception to the bill for Woonsocket’s project. Others have questioned whether this would be allowing another school to be built on a site which has contamination issues with long-term health hazards.

In this post, Alex fleshes out the history of environmental justice and the way in which this bill will help move us toward better environmental safety for our schools:

Some legislators at the State House have thankfully decided to put environmental justice on this year’s agenda by putting in a bi-partisan bill to stop building schools on contaminated land (H-7577). Please take one minute to thank these legislators and ask other decision makers to support this important bill by clicking here.

Why do schools, especially in low-income districts & communities of color, continue to get built on contaminated land?

–They are in desperate need of new schools.
–They are stuck with a lot of contaminated land – usually due to factories shutting down – that developers won’t touch.
–They think it’s cost effective because they can foot most clean up and construction costs to the state.
–They don’t take expensive monitoring and long-term maintenance costs into account; schools built on contaminated land in Providence are already exhibiting expensive problems (faulty air quality equipment, broken foundations, etc.) shortly after being constructed – not only are these problems costly in financial terms, but they put kids and teachers at risk of health problems.
–They don’t take into account that scientific standards for “safe” levels of toxins are changing fast; today’s standards may no longer be applicable in a few years.
–They sell communities on the idea of a wonderful new school, but usually keep parents and kids in the dark about potential hazards and use unfair, expedited review processes to rush jobs through. When the community learns the truth, it’s usually too late.
–More lucrative & desirable land is sold to developers who tend to build condos or offices on it; kids get stuck going to schools on former dumps and toxic waste sites.

This is nothing new – it has been going on for over 3 decades in cities and states across the country.

The question is, how much longer are we knowingly going to allow this shameful practice to keep happening?

As Dr. King said:

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.�

If you can’t attend the hearing but still want to encourage your legislators to support this bill, you can participate by clicking here.

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2 responses

  1. It really doesn’t seem like we get proper notification in time to make these Bills. Kiersten, do you know what guidelines under the Open Meetings Laws they must notify the public ahead of a meeting?

    Additionally, here is some helpful information that puts forward the reasons to support this bill.

    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:

    ï?¬ 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 pollution—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.

    ï?¬ 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) and the Adelaide Avenue High School (built on the site of the highly contaminated Gorham Silver Manufacturing Company.

    One of my biggest thing is that the Municipality should not be responsible for the cleanup. Don’t they do an Environmental Site Assessement – surely this would detect such toxic dumping grounds like Tiverton. The Developer should be culpable of the damages and should clean up with strict supervision because they are most likely to dispose of again in a deceptive manner. Then, we should take away their license and sentence them no ability to do development work / real estate work and a hefty fine if not jail time.

  2. …and Bravo to the Legislators that drafted this Bill! It defies logic than anyone would allow this to go on. 1 in 6 children have developmental delays; 1 in 150 have autism, Allergies, Asthma and other areas of delays, cancer and lukemia rates have profoundly increased in children and we must consider our environment to be a factor. If you house children in a toxic place ~ they will become sick, or bear toxic offspring. We keep place children at risk for more exposure than their systems can bear and now we are seeing “oddities” like DNA breaks…that can allegedly happen with more exposure.

    Kind of like politics….

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