CAPE MAY - On New Year’s Eve, the Herald received a press release from the City of Cape May, announcing the suspension of all recreation programs, as of Jan. 1, at the Franklin Street School gymnasium, due to lead-contaminated surface dust.
According to the release, environmental samplings for asbestos, mold and lead were compared to industry standards set by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Samples showed the potential for harm.
The gym had levels below the HUD standards, but the attached kitchen registered at levels over 100% higher than the new standards. The city stated that the programs were suspended “as a precautionary measure,” and that other locations for the activities would be sought.
The timing of the announcement, and the abrupt nature of the suspension of programs, angered several individuals, causing one to engage with city officials at a recent Cape May City Council meeting.
As part of the city and county effort to renovate and repurpose the historic Franklin Street School as a branch of the county library system, Cream Ridge Environmental, of Hamilton, was commissioned to conduct an environmental sampling study of the building and attached gym. The study’s results were available, as of Aug. 21, 2019.
There were three areas of sampling: asbestos air sampling, microbial spore trap air sampling and lead surface dust sampling. The tests involved the two-story school, the basement, the attached gym and the kitchen area.
Samples were taken and concentrations were compared to outside air levels, and, in the case of the surface dust sampled for lead contamination, to industry standards established by HUD.
Concerning the asbestos, the report notes that there appears to be no health risk to workers concerning airborne asbestos. The report also notes that the results are only relative to airborne contamination, and further inspection is advised before any demolition work is undertaken.
The second set of tests found that molds were present at levels “typical of a building this age with a moisture issue.” Remediation was advised.
While the results were “not extreme,” there was “reason for concern.”
The lead surface testing is what the city said caused the suspension of recreational programs.
Lead surface dust samples were taken from 14 surface areas. The HUD standards in place when the samples were taken and analyzed stated that no more than 40 micrograms of lead per square foot were allowable, yet notice had been given by HUD that the standards would be adjusted to 10 micrograms per square foot, as of Jan. 1.
HUD made this clear in June 2019, and published the change in the Federal Register.
Lead sample levels elsewhere in the building were extremely high. While the gym and kitchen came in under the former standard of 40 micrograms, the other 12 samples from the building ranged from 230 micrograms to 1,600 micrograms per square foot, in the basement stairway, at the west end of the building.
At the council meeting, when a resident shouted at officials, no explanation was given for why the city waited four months to issue a press release and suspend the programs overnight.
With the building scheduled for renovation as a public library and community multipurpose center, remediation is expected to be a part of the effort. Since the deal with the county for the city’s $2 million contribution to the library renovation project was confirmed in November 2019, residents are left to assume that the total estimated $6 million budget includes funds for all that would need to be done for appropriate remediation.
The environmental report calls for remediation concerning lead and mold contamination, and it strongly suggests further testing for asbestos before construction or demolition work is initiated.
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