TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senator Bob Gordon which requires prompt parental notification when hazardous materials are found on school property was signed into law this week by Governor Corzine.
“School officials have an ironclad responsibility to alert the public whenever contamination is found on their property,” said Senator Gordon, D-Bergen. “Parents, teachers and other school staff members need to have all the information that is available to help protect themselves and their families. This new law recognizes school districts’ obligations when it comes to notifying the public about hazardous waste contamination, and forces them to comply under the law with what should be considered basic common sense.”
The bill, S-480, requires that, within 10 business days of the discovery of soil contamination caused by hazardous substances on school property, the local school board, the board of trustees of a charter school, or the principal or chief administrator of a private school must provide notification to all staff members and the parents of students enrolled at the school. The notification must include a description of the problem and the conditions that may result in the potential exposure for students or staff; a description and timetable of the steps being taken to ensure that no student or staff member will come into contact with the contamination; and a description and preliminary timetable of the steps being taken to remediate the hazardous conditions.
Under the new law, notice can be provided by a written note sent home with the student and given to staff members; a telephone call; direct contact; or via electronic mail. The appropriate school administrator will be required to post a copy of the notice in a conspicuous location at or near the playground or other facility associated with the school.
“In cases involving dangerous chemical exposure, time is of the essence, and immediate notification is more than just warranted – it’s vital in order to ensure everyone’s safety,” said Senator Gordon. “The notification requirements under this new law will make sure that anyone who could have possibly come into exposure with contaminated soil would know – as well as being kept up to date about what steps are being put into place to avoid additional exposure and clean up the site. Prompt notification will make for a safer school experience for teachers and students alike.”
Senator Gordon added that the bill was introduced in response to a case of contamination at West Brook Middle School in Paramus, where, in 2007, high levels of pesticides which could cause health problems if swallowed or inhaled were discovered in the soil. In that case, school district officials took five months to notify parents about the problem on school grounds.
“When it comes to the Paramus case, I think it took school board officials far too long to admit the existence of contamination and take steps to correct the problem,” said Senator Gordon. “In the five-month time period in which parents and teachers were kept in the dark about the safety conditions at West Brook Middle School, students and staff were put in jeopardy, unaware of the dangerous contamination found in the school’s soil. Thanks to this new law, such lapses in notification will not be allowed to take place moving forward, and parents, teachers and staff will be given all the information they need to keep themselves and their loved ones safe.”
The bill received final legislative approval in both houses of the Legislature last month.