PCE canisterThe state says tests of chemicals found in water and air at Arlington High School show no imminent health risk at the school. Low to moderate concentrations of perchloroethylene (PCE), used by dry cleaners and metal degreasing operations, were found on the Schouler Court side of the high school.

The oldest part of the school was built in 1914. Industrial companies then on Grove Street had abutted the land. Contamination linked to those companies resulted in a settlement to the town, which led to the rebuilding of Peirce Field early in this decade.

On Tuesday, Aug. 23, the state Department of Environmental Protection released a 38-page report on PCE testing conducted at AHS. Tests started in July as part of a statewide effort to identify environmental issues near schools and daycare centers.

"We just happened to be on the list to be tested at this time," interim Principal Mary Villano wrote after she was asked why the state had tested here.

PCE, if spilled, it has the potential to dissolve in the underlying groundwater and subsequently travel under the ground in the direction of groundwater flow. It has a propensity to "evaporate" out of the groundwater and affect overlying structures through "vapor intrusion."

The state collected groundwater and air samples at AHS to determine the extent of PCE contamination. Groundwater and air samples were taken both inside and outside of the building. Various rooms on the basement level, including the nursery and the preschool were tested. Of greatest concern were the rooms in the basement and lowest parts of the school occupied by students and staff.

All air samples collected from occupied areas of the building were well below action levels thus safe for students and staff, a news release from the town says.

While it is safe for students and staff, school and town officials will work with the state to conduct additional monitoring and to put into effect recommended strategies to further reduce and or eliminate the infiltration of PCE into the school.

This state report is referenced in the Sept. 7, 2011, Board of Health minutes >>

This story was first published Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2011.