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Parents Zero in on School’s Health Hazards

January 8, 2013
By

forgetmenots

This never should have gone on for 10 years. It's inexcusable.

Angelo Bellomo

Director of Environmental Health and Safety

Los Angeles Unified School District

Back in the ’80s, when his older children were attending Park Avenue Elementary School in Cudahy, George Perez was one of the parents who forced the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) to close the school for 15 months because of health hazards.

So Perez was frustrated when new questions about the school’s safety emerged in 1998, just as he was preparing to send his 4-year-old daughter to preschool there. He and other parents organized — again.

A black tarry substance began bubbling up on the playground in the ‘70s. By the next decade, it became worse.

“The kids were playing with sludge,” says Jose Sigala, district director for Assemblymember Marco Firebaugh.

When the parents protested, the district investigated and discovered that this school, too, had been built on top of a landfill.

Angelo Bellomo, director of Environmental Health and Safety for the LAUSD, says the district promised parents and the Department of Toxic Substances Control that it would do a full investigation of environmental hazards at the school.

In the meantime, it dug trenches, created vents, installed a “plastic liner” two feet under the surface and reopened the school in 1990.

“The district said it would be good for 20 years,” Perez remembers.

But in the late ’90s children began complaining of headaches and rashes. Teachers suffered miscarriages. Vapors escaped into classrooms. When the parents organized again, Perez says he “jumped right into it.”

Meanwhile, Bellomo says, controversy over environmental hazards at the proposed Belmont High School pushed the district to acknowledge problems at other schools, including Park, where the promised investigation never happened.

“This never should have gone on for 10 years,” Bellomo says. “It’s inexcusable.”

He assured parents the district would do a real investigation this time. But parents, backed by city council members, state legislators, local businesses and unions, demanded that the district shut down the school until it was safe.

Finally, in June 2001, after a heavily attended community meeting, the district promised it would remove the landfill completely.

Originally written by Deborah Prussel and Jean Tepperman.