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Saturday, July 20, 2024


On the first day of medical testing related to water contamination at the Joseph Sibilly School and its annex, 48 pupils and teachers were given physical examinations and had their blood drawn for laboratory analysis.
"We didn't get any lab results back by the end of the day," Dr. Audria Thomas, Health Department acting environmental health director, said Wednesday night, "but all of the physicals were pretty much negative."
The examinations concentrated on such things as "neurological problems, abdominal pains and abdomen enlargement," Thomas said.
Although there had been no public announcement that there would be physical exams as well as blood testing, parents and guardians were informed via the permission slips sent home with pupils last Friday, she said.
According to Thomas, a physician specializing in immunology and the treatment of allergy and respiratory ailments, the testing being done "doesn't identify contaminants." Rather, she said, analysis of the two child-size vials of blood drawn from each youngster "tells us if there are abnormalities in any of the organ systems, such as the abdomen or liver, or if there is anemia or that type of problem."
The findings should help determine whether "there is a potential problem" that could be a result of the consumption of contaminated water over a period of time, she added.
The testing is being done by the Planning and Natural Resources Department and with the federal Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta in conjunction with an investigation into the causes and effects of the water contamination, Thomas said.
Tonight, the Legislature's Planning and Environmental Protection Committee is scheduled to convene to take testimony on the water contamination. Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, the committee chair, has asked that officials from the Education, Health and Planning and Natural Resources Departments be prepared to "provide senators, parents and the general public with more information about the contamination and corrective actions."
There was no indication that findings of the PNR investigation would be available by the time of the hearing.
The testing of Sibilly pupils and employees is "the first step in determining the severity of this problem," Donastorg stated in a press release Wednesday. "But the question remains: How did this water become contaminated, and are other schools and students at risk?"
All of Wednesday's exams and testing were completed between 9 and 11 a.m., Thomas said, adding, "It went pretty fast. With it being the first day and all, it went pretty smooth."
A school bus carried some of the youngsters from the school to the Roy L. Schneider Hospital and back, but "a lot of the parents brought their own kids," she said.
Thomas said it is more efficient to have the pupils bused to the hospital than for Health to send a mobile van to the school grounds because "the mobile van can hold only two examination rooms. By having four in the hospital setting and also having the lab there, we can do both the physical and the lab testing in the same setting."
Seven school days have been penciled in to complete the examinations and testing of all current Sibilly students and adult personnel, as well as others who were at the school between 1996 and last spring. "Teachers are being done at the same time as the children," Thomas said. "The last day will include the school workers and the former students."
Thomas emphasized that the Health Department testing is separate from the PNR investigation into the nature and cause of the water contamination at Sibilly and its James Monroe Annex, which is located a mile from the main campus and houses one of the school's two kindergarten classes. She said she had no information on the PNR efforts or their findings to date.
Two weeks ago, as classes were about to resume for the new school year, word reached the public that testing of water in the cisterns at Sibilly and its annex earlier in the year had detected the presence of five volatile organic chemicals in excess of the maximum acceptable contaminant level. The toxins identified included chloroform and potentially carcinogenic matter. The results of testing conducted in June, April and last December are at issue.
The Sibilly and Monroe cisterns were drained and cleaned during what was to have been the first week of classes, and bottled water has since been available for drinking and hygiene procedures.
Education Commissioner Ruby Simmonds and officials from the Health Department and the Planning and Natural Resources Environmental Protection Division have met several times with parents, and Simmonds on Monday rejected a demand from Sen. Norman Jn-Baptiste that the Monroe Annex be closed down because of sanitation concerns. PNR officials have not released any information on the investigation under way.
"Most of those things will be brought up at the Legislature meeting tomorrow (Thursday)," Thomas said Wednesday night. Asked whether she would be among those testifying, she added, "I imagine I will be."
Donastorg is encouraging parents of Sibilly pupils and the general public to attend tonight's hearing, which is to begin at 7 o'clock in the legislative chamber on St. Thomas.

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