School Site Deserves Oversight

Pacific Studies Center ( )
Tue, 28 Oct 1997 16:06:05 -0800 (PST)

From: Lenny Siegel <>

The New Jersey school query, while posed as a problem, represents an
opportunity to me. As a member of my own school district's Strategic
Planning Group a couple of years ago, I actually proposed building a new
school on a toxic site. Though the district decided not to build a new
school, it gave me an opportunity to think through what it would take to
make it happen.

The New Jersey school site is an excellent place to use the type of
community-based advisory process that I believe has worked well at a
large number of federal facilities. The parents, neighbors, and other
stakeholders should be involved in overseeing every step of the
remediation process and advising the school, industrial owner,
contractor, and regulatory agency.

Assuming that enough people are interested, this would mean a regularly
convened, officially sanctioned advisory board. Community members of
that board would have their own, independent, paid technical consultant.
The consultant would not review every single action of the cleanup
contractor or regulators. Rather, it would help the advisory group
understand and evaluate key findings and decisions. (The cost of the
consultant should represent a small fraction of the cost of the

The advisory group would be well situated to ensure that all potential
contaminant pathways are identified and controlled, both during cleanup
and in the long run. Will dust from excavation pose a hazard? If the
groundwater were not contaminated, would it be considered a potential
source of drinking water? (Here in dry California, legally it would be.)

As with many other sites, a key part of the proposed remedy is the
installation of a permanent cap. When the contractors and regulators are
long gone, neighbors and parents will remain. They need to be involved
to ensure that the cap is not breached as long as any of the
contamination poses a potential threat.

As in most cases, there are two reasons to initiate such an oversight

First, it should help those legally responsible make better decisions.

Second, when the project is complete, those affected - such as the
parents of the schoolchildren - should feel comfortable sending their
loved ones to the property. In the absence of such involvement, anyone
who knows that there was contamination present will always have doubt.

Lenny Siegel


Lenny Siegel Director, SFSU CAREER/PRO (and Pacific Studies Center) c/o PSC, 222B View St., Mountain View, CA 94041 Voice: 650/961-8918 or 650/969-1545Fax: 650/968-1126

Effective August 2, 1997, "415" area code numbers for the area south of San Francisco, including Mountain View, have changed to "650." However,"415" may be used until February 1, 1998.