Last year the General Assembly unanimously passed the “Environmental Cleanup Objectives for Schools” sponsored by Senator Juan Pichardo and representative Scott Slater. The bill, which took over three years to pass, was signed into law by Governor Chafee on June 6, 2012, nearly a year ago. Commonly referred to as the “School Siting Law,” this was an important and landmark piece of legislation that prohibits school construction on contaminated sites where there is ongoing potential for vapor intrusion.
This common sense piece of legislation, that keeps our children from attending schools where toxic gases can wreak havoc on their health, is doubly important because the bodies of children are still developing, and triply important in poorer communities where children already face greater levels of hazardous environmental poisons such as lead.
It’s therefore even more baffling that this legislation is being challenged and potentially weakened by two new bills that have been introduced to the General assembly, House Bill 5617 and Senate Bill 520. These bills would allow construction of schools on vapor intrusion sites, completely gutting the intent of the original bill. This legislation is being introduced on behalf of the Rhode Island Mayoral Academies (RIMA),which wants to expand a charter school on potentially hazardous land.
RIMA wants to manage the contamination by leaving it in the ground, and then monitoring the vapor intrusion with sophisticated and largely untested technologies that they hope will protect children, teachers and staff from unhealthy levels of exposure to toxins. The technology and monitoring will be an additional expense that the school will have to manage, money that will not go towards education.
I'm sure this will all turn out well for everyone in the end. Smell the freedom!