Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Head Start School near Toxic Spot Closed until Safe

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Head Start School near Toxic Spot Closed until Safe

Article excerpt

Jacksonville's biggest Head Start school, located near the contaminated site of a former trash incinerator, won't open its doors for the upcoming school year unless tests show it's safe for children.

The Head Start site on Forest Street, where about 700 children are scheduled to attend classes when the school year starts Aug. 18, is undergoing testing this week.

It is part of an effort by officials to answer residents' requests for examination of soil and well water. The Duval County Health Department will also test blood to determine whether children 6 and younger have been exposed to unsafe levels of lead.

The Head Start program on Forest Street is on one of four Northwest Jacksonville sites where the federal government wants the city to clean up ash from former incinerator operations. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency also wants the city to help pay for a cleanup on a fifth site.

"We will hopefully be able to open our doors on Aug. 18," said Jean Johnson, director of the city's Head Start and Parent Child programs. But if the program cannot assure "the health and safety of our children and our parents and our staff, we'll have to look at other options."

Those would include finding other sites for the Forest Street program's children.

The Health Department received 11 requests for soil tests and 11 requests for blood tests yesterday. Up to then, it had received only about seven requests total since the dump site issue became public last week.

"It's been a very good day," said Hazel Brown, lead program director.

Health workers go to a family's home to do the testing, which is paid for by a federal grant and free to the public.

Head Start serves children 3 to 5 years old, an age group vulnerable to the damage from lead that includes stunted growth and learning disabilities. …

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