The B.Bernice Young School in Burlington Township has seen changes due to a Feb 2017 discovery of mercury in the gymnasium.
As a reminder, the District has been monitoring the mercury vapor in the gymnasium to ensure the safety of our students, staff and community. The District is pleased to report that the mercury levels never exceeded exposure limits established by OSHA, PEOSHA, EPA, and the CDC. Our consultant, experts from Rutgers University, and an occupational physician all agree that there was no threat to the people who use the gymnasium on a daily basis. Detailed information regarding mercury vapor and monitoring reports may be found on their website.
The District researched abatement methods and developed a detailed abatement specification. This has been used to guide a systematic removal of the rubberized flooring over the summer, under the direction of our consultant. Prior to the start of the removal process, the gymnasium was placed under filtered negative pressure containment and isolated from the remainder of the school and exterior. This prevents any remediation residue or dust from exiting the gymnasium.
The original abatement was designed to remove the rubberized flooring material and scarify the concrete to ensure all material was removed. As the work began, the rubberized flooring appeared to have two layers: 1) the rubberized gym floor and 2) a lower layer of adhesive or primer to adhere the rubberized floor to the concrete. Samples of the adhesive or primer layer revealed higher mercury concentration than the rubberized floor. The contractor was able to complete removal of the rubberized floor by July 10, which was on schedule. The containers of rubberized flooring have already been removed to an out-of-state hazardous waste site.
Monitoring of the gymnasium air after removal of the rubberized floor unexpectedly revealed that the mercury vapor levels increased rather than decreased. Upon further investigation, the consultant determined that some of the adhesive or primer material absorbed into the upper surfaces of the concrete and could not be removed completely. The consultant also determined that low levels of the adhesive may have adhered to the concrete along cracks and seams, along the bottom of the concrete, and on top of the vapor barrier. Though the mercury concentration in the concrete was below regulatory limits, we determined that the most prudent and protective course of action would be to remove the concrete and vapor barrier above the stone foundation.
The recommendation of the consultant to remove the concrete was carefully considered. Our research showed that one other school attempted to contain the mercury in a similar situation and, after two years of working on the issue, eventually had to remove the concrete subfloor. The Board of Education took emergency action at the work session on July 12 based on the recommendation of the administration. Included in this communication are the details as set forth in my letter to the Board of Education.
The abatement contract includes conducting monitoring and safe removal of the containment system. This will ensure that the remainder of the building as well as the gymnasium are not impacted by residual vapors. Once the room has been determined to be safe, containment and monitoring should no longer be necessary. At that point, the District can focus on the multi-stage process of reconstructing the gymnasium floor.
Once the room is ready, the District will need to award a contract to replace the vapor barrier and pour the new 6" concrete slab. The concrete slab will need to cure for approximately 3 months before finished flooring can be installed. The new finished flooring will be a synthetic material with the look of wood. The installer has obtained a certification from the manufacturer, which is on file with the District, verifying that the material does not contain mercury and several other elements which are of concern.
IMPACT TO THE SCHOOL OPERATIONS
The District believes they will be able to use the gymnasium with the unfinished floor, if needed. Since they will not have a finished floor as school opens, the school administration is working on contingency plans. Alternate spaces have been identified for conducting physical education and health classes. Assemblies will be scheduled to utilize the cafeteria during non-lunch times. Bus staging will be moved to hallways.
The Township remains committed to providing timely and accurate information to the community. They wish to reiterate that since the discovery in January, the airborne levels of mercury vapor were never above regulatory guidelines. Included in this letter are online resources as well as a link to their website which contains communications, links, and references. The District is committed to continuing to provide our community with information as needed. A Question and Answer form has been developed to allow the community to submit questions and have those questions answered. This Q&A will continue to be updated and is included on their website.
The following are reference materials and website links: An executive summary from our consultant; Center for Disease Control (CDC):Mercury Factsheet; Environmental Protection Agency (EPA):Mercury in Your Environment; Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR):Mercury Quick Facts; The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH):Mercury Vapor.
Anyone with medical questions after reading the information and reviewing the resources provided should reach out to a health care provider. Technical questions regarding mercury (vapor) may be directed to the EPA at 866-DEP-KNOW (866–337–5669). Non-medical and non-technical questions should be directed to Superintendent Bell via email. If you prefer to confer, please provide a telephone number. Burlington Township School District has also created a website with relevant information. Please click here to access the website.
The Township understand this topic may be of concern to our community. They are offering an informal Question and Answer session on Monday, July 24 from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Burlington Township Middle School located at 1600 Burlington Bypass. Please use the side door.
In summary, the District will continue to follow the appropriate protocols to complete the abatement during the summer. The B. Bernice Young School will remain closed until further notice; however, it is their intent to return the administration and office staff to the building in mid-August. They will continue to keep the community updated on the status of this very important project.