Bob Horton poses an interesting question: what’s under the high school playing fields that our selectmen don’t want us to know about?

After attending their anti-gun demonstration to "save the children", Greenwich selectmen head to the high school to assure parents that their children are safe

After attending an anti-gun demonstration to “save the children”, Greenwich selectmen head to the high school to assure parents that their children are safe

The Selectmen are using our tax dollars to appeal a FOI ruling concerning PCBs at the site

Something about the increasing size and intensity of the PCB dumping grounds at Greenwich High School has town officials spooked, and they don’t want the public to know what it is.

That’s the inescapable conclusion drawn from the Board of Selectmen’s decision to appeal a recent state Freedom of Information Commission ruling that ordered the town to make public all discussions and documents presented at an illegal, closed-door meeting held last fall by the boards of Estimate and Taxation, Selectmen and Education.

Horton speculates, as have others here on FWIW, on the reason for the silence:

I suspect that the ultimate cost of this project is what has our elected officials so concerned, as well they should be. The bigger this cleanup gets, the more expensive it is. And if PCBs have migrated off the GHS site, that opens up liabilities that might dwarf the remediation costs at GHS.

I also agree with Bob’s concluding paragraph:

Opponents of the new high school wing seem to think the town would not be facing this problem if we never excavated the site. But with just one public high school serving Greenwich, building expansion was inevitable. The new wing just happened to be the project underway at the time.

I’d add, however, that many people’s objection to MISA had nothing to do with the then-unknown PCB problem and centered instead on the sheer cost of the construction itself which, we predicted, would balloon way past the estimates. That has happened – from a $29 million original estimate, we’re already past $43 million, and no more than $3 million of that is attributable to PCB remediation, which hasn’t even begun.



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27 responses to “Bob Horton poses an interesting question: what’s under the high school playing fields that our selectmen don’t want us to know about?

  1. What about other sites, especially Town owned ones.
    Town Dump, “new” Glenville School, The Griff, etc…..

    • loveablewhackjob


      Remember when Innis Arden found PCBs while renovating the golf course?

      Where do you suppose those PCBs came from? It wasn’t Pitney Bowes–that was just plain stupid.

      As I know you know, PCBs do not occur naturally, and have distinct chemical “fingerprints” that allow anyone to track them all the way back to the plant that manufactured them. Somebody has to put PCBs where they are found, and somebody else has to know who did it.

      Here is a segment from a good history of PCBs:

      “The History of PCBs

      “When Were Health Problems Detected?

      “PCB history is not pretty. As the timeline shows, the manufacturers and major users of PCBs knew by the 1930s and 1940s that PCBs caused serious health problems in their workers, and doctors advised them that other effects could be occurring as well. But this did not stop industries from producing and using PCBs, or from releasing PCBs into our environment, contaminating our public waterways, air, croplands, and wildlife. It appears from this PCB history that several companies also deliberately misled workers, customers, regulators and the public for many decades, allowing the PCB problem to spread and become much worse.”

      For the whole history go here:

      Here is Wikipedia’s version:

      “In 1865 the first “PCB-like” chemical was discovered, and was found to be a byproduct of coal tar. Years later in 1881, German chemists synthesized the first PCB in a laboratory. From the initial synthesis of PCB until 1914, large amounts of PCB were released into the environment, to the extent that there are still measurable amounts of PCB in feathers of birds currently held in museums.[27][28]

      “PCBs, originally termed “chlorinated diphenyls,” were commercially produced as complex mixtures containing multiple isomers at different degrees of chlorination. In the United States, commercial production of PCBs was taken over in 1929 by Monsanto Chemical Company (now Solutia Inc) from Swann Chemical Company. Manufacturing levels increased in response to the electrical industry’s need for a safer (than flammable mineral oil) cooling and insulating fluid for industrial transformers and capacitors. PCBs were also commonly used as stabilizing additives in the manufacture of flexible PVC coatings for electrical wiring and electronic components to enhance the heat and fire resistance of the PVC.[29]

      “The toxicity associated with PCBs and other chlorinated hydrocarbons, including polychlorinated naphthalenes, was recognized very early due to a variety of industrial incidents.[30] Between 1936 and 1937, there were several medical cases and papers released on the possible link between PCBs and its detrimental health effects. One of the earlier cases in 1936 described an incident where a U.S. Public Health Service official described a wife and child of a worker from the Monsanto Industrial Chemical Company who exhibited blackheads and pustules on their skin. The official attributed these symptoms to contact with the worker’s clothing after he returned from work.[31] A conference about the hazards was organized at Harvard School of Public Health in 1937, and a number of publications referring to the toxicity of various chlorinated hydrocarbons were published before 1940.[32] Robert Brown reminded chemists in 1947 that Arochlors were “objectionably toxic. Thus the maximum permissible concentration for an 8-hr. day is 1 mg/m3 of air. They also produce a serious and disfiguring dermatitis”.[33] However, PCB manufacture and use continued with few restraints until the 1970s.

      “PCBs are persistent organic pollutants and have entered the environment through both use and disposal. The environmental transport of PCBs is complex and nearly global in scale. The public, legal, and scientific concerns about PCBs arose from research indicating they are likely carcinogens having the potential to adversely impact the environment and, therefore, undesirable as commercial products. Despite active research spanning five decades, extensive regulatory actions, and an effective ban on their production since the 1970s, PCBs still persist in the environment and remain a focus of attention.[1]

      “The only North American producer, Monsanto Company, marketed PCBs under the trade name Aroclor from 1930 to 1977. These were sold under trade names followed by a 4-digit number. In general, the first two digits refer to the number of carbon atoms in the biphenyl skeleton (for PCBs this is 12); the second two numbers indicate the percentage of chlorine by mass in the mixture. Thus, Aroclor 1260 has 12 carbon atoms and contains 60% chlorine by mass. An exception is Aroclor 1016, which also has 12 carbon atoms, but has 42% chlorine by mass. Different Aroclors were used at different times and for different applications. In electrical equipment manufacturing in the USA, Aroclor 1260 and Aroclor 1254 were the main mixtures used before 1950; Aroclor 1242 was the main mixture used in the 1950s and 1960s until it was phased out in 1971 and replaced by Aroclor 1016.[1]

      “Manufacture peaked in the 1960s, by which time the electrical industry had lobbied the U.S. Congress to make them mandatory safety equipment. In 1966, they were determined by Swedish chemist Dr. Soren Jensen to be an environmental contaminant,[34] and it was Dr. Jensen, according to a 1994 article in Sierra, who named them PCBs. Previously, they had simply been called “phenols” or referred to by various trade names, such as Aroclor, Kennechlor, Pyrenol, Chlorinol and others.”

      PCB-like compounds are found in coal tar.

      “Coal tar is incorporated into some parking-lot sealcoat products, used to protect and beautify the underlying pavement.[2]‍(About Pavement Sealer) Sealcoat products that are coal-tar based typically contain 20 to 35 percent coal-tar pitch.[3] Substantial concerns have been raised about the safety of this application of coal tar, given that coal tar is known to cause cancer in humans [4] and that several PAH compounds in coal tar are toxic to aquatic life. Defenders of coal-tar use in sealcoat have pointed out that humans are exposed to PAHs through many pathways, and similarly that the urban environment has many potential sources of PAHs.[2]‍(About Coal Tar and Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs))
      The primary use of coal tar based sealcoats is regional within the US[3] but federal research [5] shows it is used in states from Alaska to Florida and several areas have banned its use in sealcoat products [6][7][8] including: The District of Columbia; the City of Austin, Texas; Dane County, Wisconsin; Washington State; and several municipalities in Minnesota and others.[9][10]” — Wikipedia

      The Cos Cob Power Plant (CCPP) is a Superfund site purchased by the Town of Greenwich for $1 in 1986. It is 9 acres of coal ash and coal tar, stacked 35 feet high, spilling into Long Island Sound. The Superfund renovation is operating under the supervision of EPA.

      At some point in its history, someone spilled PCBs inside the 78 huge CCPP transformers into the slag pile.

      There is supposed to be a shipping manifest for every truckload of material that left the CCPP site, saying where the truck went, and who accepted responsibility for the shipment.

      Nobody claims to know where the coal ash, coal tar, and PCBs went, although DPW has been removing it for more than 25 years.

      GHS PCBs came from CCPP — they have the same chemical “fingerprint”.

      PCBs linger wherever they are placed, and are easily detected in minute quantities. If Innis Arden tests the soil remaining where the PCBs were found they can know if they came from CCPP.

      This is equally true for Holly Hill, numerous schools, private properties, Long Island Sound, and anywhere else anyone thinks PCBs might have been shipped.

      Bill Effros

      PS — thanks for the kind words about my gravitar, “Green Witch Thumbs Nose”

  2. Chief Scrotum

    Just raise taxes , its no big deal, its all for the children!

  3. Cos Cob power plant…one hears that in addition to the pre-existing contamination it may also have been used by the Town as a dumping site for some of the GHS playing fields soil….

  4. liability for toxic waste clean-up attaches to anyone in the chain of title and anyone who was a source of the toxic substance. the liability is ‘joint and several’ so that someone who owned a property for even a short period of time and did nothing to it could be held liable for the clean-up and downstream pollution caused by a prior owner who went out of business decades ago. it seems that the town would be liable for all of the costs, but could have a right to seek ‘contribution’ from the new haven railroad [bankrupt decades ago] or maybe others. good luck with that.

  5. Maybe in the new auditorium the first production can be, “Tax Increase: The Musical.”

  6. Walt

    Dude –
    Who cares about this? Melvin went to GHS and he turned out just fine, despite his exposure to toxic waste. Here is little Melvin in action:

    And he still lives in Cos Cob!!

    So there is nothing to worry about. Besides, we are all the same, right? So even if GHS cranks out a bunch of hair lipped, Siamese twin headed mutants, they are no different than anyone else.

    Do you agree, you humped back mutant midget?
    Your Pal,

    • My concern is that it will ruin nighttime games of capture the flag and hide-and- seek, because Little Melvin will glow in the dark.
      On the other hand, kids will be safer while trick-or-treating, so there’s that.

    • anon

      It’s very difficult to find any non-biased information about PCBs. Who knows what incident set off the ban? Who actually voted on the ban. I don’t remember. NOAA has some decent content:

      Because PCBs exist in sediments, scientists need to determine if it is better to dredge and remove contaminated sediments from waterways or if it is safer to leave the sediments in place and cover with clean sediments, allowing them to naturally biodegrade. A cap or barrier can also be placed over contaminated sediments to prevent them from entering the environment.

  7. Anonymous

    What occupied the GHS site before GHS?

  8. Mary

    What’s under the High School grounds? Town officials absolutely know… Truckloads of contaminated, polluted scrapings from the dump to fill in the wetlands on which the entire School was built. I knew this when, as a member of the RTM, Dist 11, I tried to lead a reconsideration of this non-educational folly. The MISA might yet lead to high real estate taxes in Greenwich, but by dragging it out over years, it won’t seem like that’s the reason, it will just seem as if “the budget” got out of balance somehow.

    • Anonymous

      I’m not a huge supporter of MISA, but would hardly consider music instruction to be “non-educational”.
      That said, why on earth is this information being withehld? What does Tesei have to say about the FOI appeal? Has he said anything? Does he ever?

  9. Greenwich Taxpayer

    I did a bit of research and here’s what I found. PCBs are regulated by the US EPA as a hazardous waste, and by OSHA as a workplace hazard with air limits for human exposure. The environmental issue with PCBs came to a head with General Electric and the Hudson River that was contaminated by PCBs from GEs plant which was spewing out PCBs that ultimately settled into the sediment. A huge battle ensued between the EPA and GE before GE finally agreed to dredge part of the Hudson River to clean up the sediment. It is unprecedented and costing GE lots of money.

    If PCBs have migrated downstream then Greenwich has a big issue on their hands. While it is true that he who dumps the stuff has responsibility, if contaminated property is bought without assigning responsibility for cleanup to the person contaminating the property the new owner now owns the toxins and are responsible for the cleanup. However, since the GHS property was bought before the establisment of the EPA and OSHA there is a case to be made that the previous owner is responsible for the cleanup, although good luck finding them. Amy Siebert has publicly stated that records do not exist stating where the fill came from. Back before the school was built the area was a swamp and generally used as a dumping ground so there are a lot of places the PCBs could have come from. Bottom line is that the Town failed to do due diligence prior to breaking ground for MISA so we will have a huge tax bill on top of the $43 million and rising costs we are already paying for. That the Town is appealing a decision that we who pay their salaries has a right to know is insulting and a poor use of taxpayer dollars. They should all be fired.

  10. Greenwich Gal

    Start all over and build another school. Two schools, actually.

    • CatoRenasci

      An excellent idea that is politically simply not feasible: the academic and social disparities between the various parts of Town are such that no one would want to be in the high school district that did not include the bulk of the kids from Eastern Middle School (known widely in Town as “Eastern Country Day”). The highest levels of achievement come from the elementary schools feeding Eastern and Eastern, plus North Street and Parkway. Other than for athletics (depending on the sport….), the kids pretty much self-segregate at GHS as it is – the Eastern kids with some kids from Central (the North Street/Parkway kids mostly) in one set of groups and the kids from Western with the rest of the kids from Central in another set of groups. The mostly Eastern groups will usually include the smartest/wealthiest kids from the Western area, and there are Eastern kids who end up in the mostly Western groups, but it’s a fairly accurate rule of thumb.

    • CatoRenasci

      You think you have achievement gap problems now at the elementary and middle schools, split the high school into two groups roughly East/West and you’ll have a huge achievement gap between the two high schools.

      • loveablewhackjob

        The original plan was to have 2 schools, north/south, retaining the original high school, and building another north of the parkway. There is presently only 1 public school north of the parkway.

  11. BigMike

    Is there insurance for this MISA mud?
    “Unforeseen unearthed party poop-er”
    Is AECOM overseeing this project?
    eastern country day huh!?
    I guess we’ll stay 🙂

    • loveablewhackjob

      There is a completion bond.

      MISA cannot be completed because the MISA Building Committee never obtained the required permits. The contractors are responsible for removing the steel they put in place without permits, and they are also responsible for the PCBs that have migrated beyond the “MISA Footprint”.

      MISA-BC is trying to shift this financial responsibility to Greenwich Taxpayers in secret meetings with select Town Officials, followed by public votes based on false information generated as a result of those meetings.

      Greenwich Time figured this out, and is trying to see what was said in those meetings. BOE (one participant) has a “gag order” prohibiting anyone from revealing what was said in the meetings. The Selectmen, (another participant) have voted to fight release of the meeting minutes. BET (another participant) has authorized the issuance of Municipal Bonds that fail to reveal the contingent liability associated with PCB removal. AECOM (another participant) has created false documents submitted by Town Officials to EPA and USACE. DPW (another participant) has been trucking PCBs all over Town for 25 years.

      • Mary

        When are we going to stop accepting inept management in Greenwich? It’s costing us a fortune. We get upset from the distance of our computers. Writing these emails and having clever replies might make us feel good, but will accomplish nothing in fact.

  12. Greenwich Gal

    So – Bill, what should your average citizen do about this outrage?

    • loveablewhackjob

      We’ve got to keep the kids and all women who might one day have children off the school grounds. This is a no-brainer. The rest is just politics and money.

  13. Anonymous

    PCBs are thick, viscous mostly inert fluids that don’t tend to migrate. They likely haven’t migrated off site. The question is why no one is pursuing the generators and transporters of these toxic chemicals. The rumor is that some of the “responsible” parties back then are important folks today.

    • loveablewhackjob

      PCBs are sticky and hydrophobic. They stick to whatever they touch, and don’t dissolve in water. They do dissolve in people, and aren’t excreted. They build up in everyone’s body over time. Get enough in your body and they will kill you. Women get enough and they will produce babies with birth defects.

      PCBs migrate primarily through the air. “Agent Orange” was, essentially, weaponized PCB dropped from airplanes in Vietnam, designed to stick to the jungle canopy and kill it.

      PCB remediation must be performed inside enclosed areas with negative atmospheric pressure so no PCBs can escape into the air. GHS remediation has been done in open air, allowing PCBs to migrate all over, and surely off site.

      Additionally, the MISA foundation is not EPA compliant, and has allowed PCBs to escape into the groundwater (riding on other floating stuff). This PCB polluted groundwater has been pumped into the Town Sewer system, and dumped into the culvert surrounding the playing fields. It, too, has surely migrated off site.

      The Environmental Protection Agency, United States Army Corps of Engineers, and CT-Department of Environmental Protection are all actively pursuing the Greenwich PCBs to find out where they came from, and where they went.

      The Town of Greenwich is ultimately responsible for the cost of cleaning up all local PCBs (which have a unique chemical “fingerprint” and are easily identified) because it assumed that responsibility when it acquired the Cos Cob Power Plant. It can recover some of this money from the contractors who transported the PCBs off-site, and who have been trying to flush them into the Town’s waste treatment plants and Long Island Sound.

      Insurance will pick up some of the cost–but probably not the illegal part. All of the contractors will probably be bankrupted in the process. The rest of the cost will be picked up by Greenwich taxpayers.

      The PCB renovation cost has been estimated at more than a billion dollars and it has been estimated to take more than 50 years. It will surely impact both our taxes and our property values.

      Many Town Officials have been advised of this information in secret meetings not open to the public, the press, or RTM. These officials (BET; Selectmen; BOE; DPW; MISA Building Committee) have distributed information they know to be untrue.

      If RTM holds these officials accountable we can begin to unwind this mess. If not, it will just get worse.

      Bill Effros