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Cruz Bay
Monday, July 22, 2024


Distrust and anxiety were the only serious and immediate effects of the water contamination at the Joseph E. Sibilly Elementary School that could be readily identified at a meeting between parents and local and federal officials Wednesday night.
In August, only days before school was to start, the media reported the water at Sibilly School and the James Monroe annex was contaminated by volatile organic chemicals. It turned out that officials of the Education Department had known about the contamination for months, but didn't notify the parents, even after being ordered to do so by Planning and Natural Resources. It was a leak to the media that finally exposed the contamination.
After months of questions and requests, Sibilly parents finally got to meet with federal officials from the Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry on Wednesday night. Unfortunately the assembled group of parents, staff and children got little relief.
Toxicologist Mike Aldrid of ATSDR said there was no reason to expect any short- or long-term effects from the levels of exposure to the volatile organic chemicals found in the water at the northside elementary school and its annex. Aldrid said he would not worry about his own children drinking the contaminated water.
Aldrid's assurances, however, seemed to do little to allay fears and conjecture about potential health problems that could arise from the exposure.
Many parents, after months of being told there was no apparent connection, still think the contaminated drinking water at Sibilly is related to the Tutu wells contamination.
Tutu wells were contaminated by highly toxic chemicals over a period of many years by several businesses in the area, including a gas station and dry cleaner. One of the water haulers who had delivered water to the schools in question has wells in Smith Bay, not far from the Tutu wells aquifier.
Christine Lottes from the Planning and Natural Resources Department's Division for Environmental Health said Wednesday that only two of the chemicals found in the Sibilly water were chemicals also found in the Tutu wells.
She said four petroleum hydrocarbons were found in the Tutu water, but only benzene was found in the schools' water. Lottes said the hydrocarbons would tend to stick together and would likely all show up in the water if it came from Tutu.
But no matter what the parents were told, there were more questions, more suspicion and more accusations.
The bottom line, as defined by a parent and confirmed by Aldrid, is that there is no test that is going to assure parents their children are going to be safe.
Dr. Jewel Crawford, ATSDR medical officer, said, "The other problem this (water contamination) creates is anxiety." Crawford said even if a child gets sick down the road, "There is no indication it is a result of this."
After the meeting Delegate Donna Christian-Christensen, who arranged for the federal officials to come to the territory, and Sen. Lorraine Berry, who attended the meeting, agreed the biggest problem was the perceived cover-up.
The parents don't believe what they are being told, Berry said.
Vinod Mohanani, president of the Sibilly Parent Teachers Association, said the best thing parents can do is keep records, talk to each other and report any alarming rates of disease.
The message was clear: There is no time frame for recognizing any symptoms from the exposure.
Mohanani did say, and the parents agreed, that they want an answer about where the water came from and how it got into their children's drinking water.

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