After concerns about potential contamination coming from the East Pikeland Elementary School site, the district went forward with a geophysical survey.
Well testing was also done for a well that has not been used since the early 1990s. That showed that dieldrin is still present in the well water, but the school district switched to public water two decades ago.
The geophysical survey served as an X-ray of the site, using ground penetrating radar to examine all areas not covered by buildings. The goal was to find out whether or not the source of the dieldrin was buried somewhere on the school site.
At a public meeting in East Pikeland Township, residents near the school at Hares Hill and West Seven Stars roads brought up concerns about testing done by the Environmental Protection Agency in 1989 that showed the school’s well had high concentrations of the pesticide dieldrin. Phoenixville Area School District is hoping to expand the existing elementary school and add kindergarten students to the facility.
School officials noted that as the elementary was built in the 1930s and dieldrin was widely used from 1950 to 1974, according to the EPA’s website, the school was most likely not the source. Superintendent Dr. Alan Fegley said that despite that, he wanted to move forward with geophysical testing just to be cautious. If dieldrin was found on the school’s site, Fegley said the district would remediate the area.
A coalition of nearby neighbors commissioned its own study of environmental conditions and determined that the dieldrin source is “in the vicinity of the school.” A study commissioned by the school district in 2010 showed that the likely sources were two dumping sites within a mile of the elementary school—The Kimberlea Landfill and the Frog Hollow Road site.
The school district contracted with Blue Bell firm O’Brien and Gere to do the geophysical survey and well testing on the site. The survey was expected to cost under $10,000. At Thursday’s school board meeting, Executive Director of Operations Stan Johnson filled the board in on progress.
Four areas were identified by O’Brien and Gere as having anomalies buried beneath the surface, Johnson explained. One was a buried pipe, another a buried electric cable and another one was related to the tile field, which was part of the old sewer system on the site. Those were not unearthed but were identified by using aerial photography, according to Johnson.
The board approved a $6,400 contract for a backhoe to dig up the final anomaly, which Johnson said was not long and skinny or fat like a drum.
“They’re somewhat puzzled as to what that might be,” Johnson said.
While the excavation was planned for this week, Johnson said Monday that it wasn’t necessary as the anomaly turned out to be close to the surface. Using a metal detector, those at the site determined the anomaly was only about a foot deep, so it was unearthed. It turned out to be an old small-diameter pipe, possible a fence post, rusted and curved.
The total results of the geophysical survey and well testing are still being worked on, Johnson said, and so the school project won’t be before the township’s Environmental Advisory Council this month. Instead, the project will likely be on the council’s April agenda, and the elementary school expansion will come before the board of supervisors for possible waiver approval in May.