A Newark Elem. school closes for rest of year

April 7, 2010 8:31:20 PM PDT
The Wilson Avenue Elementary school will be closed for the rest of the school year, and its 855 students will be bused to Harrison starting Thursday. Parents learned all about the new plan at a heated meeting Wednesday night.

Angry parents confronted Newark school officials at a meeting at Eastside High School.

At issue was a severe flood in the basement of the Wilson Avenue Elementary school, that brought with it, toxic chemicals used to make gasoline.

Ten inches of water flooded the school gymnasium three weeks ago when our area was soaked with record rainfall.

The gym was closed immediately, but parents and school employees noticed the smell of gasoline.

Turns out, they were right.

The water that flooded the school contained benzene.

New Jersey law says the highest acceptable level of benzene is 0.5 parts per billion.

The air in the gym contained 25 times that, 12.6 parts per billion.

A stairwell was more than ten times the acceptable limit, but a classroom was just barely over, at 0.6. "The kids are getting higher levels of benzene driving around in their cars or being at a gas station," said Rocky Richards of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.

State agencies did not require it, but the Newark school district closed the Wilson Avenue School as soon as the results came back.

"They did the right thing in having them go somewhere else instead of having them go back to the school," said parent Christine Almeida.

For the last two days, the students have had class in the Eastside High auditorium.

Starting Thursday, they'll be bused to Holy Cross School in Harrison, an arrangement that will likely last until the end of the year.

"I'm a single mom, I work 3 jobs it's inconvenient, I live right next to the school that's why I still live in Newark," explained parent Melissa Lopes.

"I'm used to my school and my desk and it's not the same at a different school," said fifth grader Carmen Lopes.

The Department of Environmental Protection will test air in two preschools next door and also houses within 100 feet to see if the contamination has spread.

Before returning the students to school, they plan to fix the drainage problem and clean up the tainted soil.