City offers funds for toxin cleanup at school field 

The city, acknowledging that it often makes use of school district playing fields, said that it plans to help pitch in funds to lay a new field at Burlingame High School.

The state Department of Toxic Substances Control met with the district last week to discuss the status of the arsenic and lead cleanup at Burlingame High, following a San Mateo Union High School Board of Trustees decision this month to use some available funds from the 2000 bond issue and certificates of participation for the much-anticipated cleanup.

"We are indeed moving forward with the process," district business manager Liz McManus said. "I think everyone’s breathing a sigh of relief that we can get moving on this."

DTSC supervisor Mark Malinowski said he is scheduled to receive a plan of action for the cleanup from the district sometime today, after which the district, state and city can discuss how to proceed. One of the first steps in the plan of action is completing the state investigation into the best way to remove the PCB, or polychlorinated biphenyls, lead and arsenic.

In the meantime, work starts Monday on putting a thin layer of concrete on an easement along Carolan Avenue in front of the school, which officials are fairly certain belongs to the city. The idea is to better contain that known contaminated area, Malinowski said. The backfield and front lawn have already been fenced off.

Burlingame Parks and Recreation Director Randy Schwartz said there have been discussions for years into turning the field into synthetic turf, but further evaluation needs to be done before deciding on that option.

"How much would it save us in maintenance costs? How much will it take to recoup the savings of maintenance if we do go synthetic? These are all questions that need to be answered," Schwartz said.

A site assessment performed in 2005 found that an electrical transformer was leaking lead and fluid containing PCB. Further testing for other chemicals after those findings found that there were also levels of arsenic in the back field and front lawn between 531 and 600 parts per million, far exceeding the normal 3 to 10 parts per million, Malinowski said.

Many have been concerned about the high levels of arsenic, which is a known carcinogen and can cause nerve damage. But Dean Peterson, San Mateo County director of Environmental Health, said that one would have to try really hard to become ill from the current level of contamination.

"You would literally have to eat the soil every day for 20 to 30 years," Peterson said. "And even that would just increase your chances of getting cancer."

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