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Scientist: Pesticides 'Unlikely' to Pose Threat to School

The dieldrin groundwater contamination at East Pikeland Elementary is unlikely to be a problem, says William Schew.

At Wednesday’s public hearing, a trio of expert witnesses told the East Pikeland Zoning Hearing Board they see no issues with the proposed East Pikeland Elementary expansion on stormwater, traffic safety, or environmental grounds.

The Phoenixville Area School District presented their case for the new facility during the meeting, while the will get an opportunity to counter when the hearing is continued later in the summer.

Dr. William Schew, vice president at O’Brien and Gere Environmental Services, was the last of the experts called on, but delivered perhaps the evenings’ most compelling testimony. Schew addressed the likelihood that the threat the dieldrin in area’s groundwater poses would be compounded by the district’s proposed construction on the site.

His answer: it wouldn’t.

Schew said, again and again, that it’s very unlikely the bygone pesticide would become a health hazard as a result of the PASD plans for the Hares Hill Road site.

, Schew said that while dieldrin is present in the groundwater–a problem the school has obviated by using public water–there is no evidence it is in the soil of the school, or that the school is the source of the contamination.

“It never has been known as a storage place for pesticides and there has been no confirmed use of pesticides there,” he said, adding that the Kimberlea Landfill is viewed as a possible source of the contamination that "has been in the water in this area for quite some time."

Schew dismissed speculation that dieldrin was used to treat termites at the school in the past and consequently contaminated the area’s groundwater. He said the compound doesn’t travel well–upon application it tends to bind to soil and stay there, rarely moving more than a foot–and so is very unlikely to have migrated from the soil surface to the water under such a scenario.

Schew also stated, in response to concerns raised by a group of homeowners who oppose the construction, that the school’s stormwater management plans are unlikely to compromise nearby wells. He said the proposed basins aren’t going to significantly impact water flow, and that the poison will effectively “stay where it always has been.” He added that, if anything, the stormwater would serve to mitigate the concentration of the toxin.

“[Stormwater runoff] will dilute dieldrin or anything else that's in the groundwater. Stormwater will have little in the way of contaminants–salt, sodium, chloride, and a little in the way of hydrocarbon,” he said.

Schew also, with some prodding from the board, expressed puzzlement over the apparent lack of interest environmental agencies have in pinpointing the source of the area’s dieldrin contamination.

"I find that attitude humorous,” said board member Jeff Morgan, in reference to what he framed as their blase approach.

"Believe me, so do we,” added Schew.

The PhD’s most emphatic endorsement of the proposed construction came at the end of his testimony though, when a board member asked him if he would, knowing what he knows about the site’s history with dieldrin, let his daughter attend East Pikeland Elementary School.

“Yes,” he said, without hesitation.

Before Schew’s testimony, the stormwater runoff and traffic safety components of the districts’ plan received endorsements as well.

Angelo M. Capuzzi of Chester Valley Engineers testified that the site will meet the township’s stormwater requirements, and that the district’s additions will cause a “dramatic improvement to the runoff on the property,” while traffic engineer Frank Tavani testified that the traffic control measures the school is proposing are sufficient to meet the township’s requirements.

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