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SCHOOL TO BE TESTED FOR CONTAMINATION

Holmes Elementary School, whose proximity to radiation-contaminated Praxair has long been a concern, is likely to be tested soon for contamination, the head of the Kenmore-Tonawanda School District said Wednesday.

Superintendent Steven Achramo-vitch said soil samples will be taken from the Town of Tonawanda grade school as a routine precaution before it builds a new $90,000 playground.

It was unexpected news for those who have sought more testing to determine whether Holmes suffers contamination.

School Board President Donette Darrow, who had wanted soil samples taken, said she was pleased to learn it would happen, although she wasn't sure if the testing Achramovitch had in mind would be adequate.

"I think we really need to get together as a School Board and decide what is sufficient," Darrow said. "All I want is to make sure that the kids, the staff and the community there is OK. I think that's part of our responsibility."

Local environmentalists were surprised, too. But they also said Holmes should undergo more extensive testing, and urged the board to order more analysis and other work be done.

Philip Sweet, an environmental activist, said he was particularly concerned that it has been so long since Holmes was tested.

Soil samples were last taken in the late 1980s or early 1990s, Achramovitch said. The findings were the basis of a report given to the board in 1994, when it was considering building an addition to Holmes.

The samples showed no contamination, he said.

Sweet, among others, believed the 1994 report included findings from new soil tests taken at that time.

"That's many, many years to go without testing," he said. "I'm surprised it wasn't done in 1994. We're talking about the lives of kids here. The board absolutely must do more testing."

Holmes, which has about 460 students, abuts Praxair to the west. Praxair was used by the federal government when it was Linde Air Products to develop the atomic bomb in the 1940s.

The high levels of radiation that resulted led to a massive cleanup. It is likely now that Building 14 -- used by the federal government for studies in uranium separation -- will be torn down as a final precaution.

e-mail: ncervantes@buffnews.com

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