April 13, 2017
Dear Lowell High School Parents and Staff,
We wanted to share with you information that we received from the Lowell City Manager relative to soil testing that took place at Lowell High School on March 29, 2017. Nobis Engineering conducted five soil tests on the portion of the high school campus typically referred to as the 1980 campus. The morning of April 11, 2017, City officials informed Lowell Public School Administration that one of the samples taken from a location below the 1980 walkway, near the entrance/exit closest to the dentist office at the end of the Lord Building, indicated a heightened level of arsenic. The test was taken in the dirt area between the trolley tracks and the concrete walkway that runs the length of the Lord Building up to Father Morissette Boulevard.
Immediately upon receipt of the results on April 10, 2017, the company conducting the test contacted the City to discuss the results. Nobis recommended additional sampling from the location to determine action. Two soil samples were collected by Nobis personnel on April 11, 2017 and a temporary fence was erected around the location. The additional two test samples collected, confirmed the finding of arsenic in the same area.
The samples contained arsenic above 40mg/kg. City officials contacted MassDEP in accordance with state regulations and the City was instructed to take steps to cordon off the area or cover the surface with either asphalt or concrete. According to DEP regulations, the City is only responsible to address the area in the vicinity where the sample was taken, however, in an abundance of caution, the City is erecting a 6 foot chain link fence that will run from the high school property near 75 Arcand Drive (dentist office lot) to the area closest to Father Morissette Boulevard. Plans are underway to ensure that the fence is in place upon students return from April vacation. In the interim, Head of School, Brian Martin, has placed security staff in the area to ensure that students and staff are not in the vicinity of the test area.
Nobis will begin testing soil to determine the extent of the contamination. Results for the samples will take approximately two weeks. A remediation plan will be developed as soon as we have all necessary information to proceed in the proper manner. While we await these results, we want to assure parents and staff that it is safe to be on site at Lowell High School. We requested information from Stephen Vetere the Director of Environmental Services from Nobis relative to any potential risks due to arsenic which are included below for your review:
“Arsenic is a naturally-occurring element that is commonly found in coal, coal ash,
pressure-treated wood, and wood ash. Arsenic has also historically been used as a
component of pesticides. Widespread use of these materials over time has resulted in
the release of arsenic to the environment in many urban areas with a long history of
industrial use, and particularly in areas adjacent to railroad tracks where the use of
these arsenic-containing materials was very common. Once released to the environment,
the most likely route of exposure to humans is through ingestion. The amount of arsenic
that enters your body, and the health effects, will depend on how much soil you swallow.
If you get arsenic-contaminated soil or water on your skin, only a small amount will go
through your skin into your body, so this is usually not of concern. The most effective
way to prevent exposure to soil that is contaminated with arsenic is to restrict access
to the contaminated area, either by erecting a barrier to discourage activity in the area or by removing the contaminated soil.”
Also, three different polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons were detected in the soil sample collected in the same area. Pursuant to state law, these exceedances are exempt from reporting because they can be attributed to the presence of coal fragments or coal ash, which were observed in the soils during soil boring advancement.
We will keep parents and staff informed of any follow-up relative to this matter in the upcoming weeks. Please contact my office if you have questions regarding this notification.
Salah E. Khelfaoui, Ph.D.
Superintendent of Schools