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Friday, May 24, 2024


A Senate committee meeting Monday night that aimed to finally identify the source of water contamination at the Joseph Sibilly Elementary School and its James Monroe Annex in 1999 came up empty.
The Source reported more than two weeks ago that no definitive cause for the contamination has been established by the Department of Planning and Natural Resources, the agency that oversees safe water drinking standards. The committee did, however, receive copies of the DPNR investigative report on the possible source of contamination of the cistern water supply, but the report came too late for senators to probe the department's findings. Hollis Griffin, DPNR's director of environmental protection, testified Monday that a definitive cause for the volatile organic compounds found in the school's water supply could not be established.
Two Education Department employees subpoenaed to appear before the committee did show, but Jomo McLean, the department's former director of maintenance, and Julie Mae Monsanto, an environmental specialist and water tester, were able to provide little information. At times, McLean's testimony was contradictory, and Monsanto told the committee that since she was on suspension from the department, there was not much she could offer that was new.
The news of Monsanto's suspension surprised Sen. Lorraine Berry, who said, "it seems like we are on a merry-go-round-the person that has the most information was suspended two days before the hearing."
Education Commissioner Ruby Simmonds said Monsanto's suspension stemmed from questions raised about the most recent water contamination at Sibilly, which was discovered just before school opened two weeks ago. Simmonds said little else about Monsanto's status with the department.
Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, who chairs the Committee on Planning and Environmental Protection, ended the meeting by saying he "continues to have problems with DPNR being the agency to enforce and cite other government agencies. … There is something wrong with those dynamics."
Donastorg did not say whether another public hearing would be called to go over DPNR's findings after an almost yearlong investigation.

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