PCBs: Where Worcester delayed, Princeton was decisive

Indignant at potentially exposing town residents and workers to PCBs through no fault of their own, Princeton officials wanted payback. They decided they would go for it in the form of a lawsuit directed at Old Monsanto, the company that made virtually all of the potential human carcinogen (98 percent, according to the lawsuit). To do so, they hired a heavy hitter in the environmental field: Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Richard Nangle reports.

Nangle: Why Trump Won

OK, about the headline: It was my suggestion. It suggests I know why Trump won.

I don’t.

But I offer some theories involving negligent journalism and the Electoral College’s expiration date.

Donald Trump

Flickr / Gage Skidmore

Donald Trump

First of all, there was no Trump revolution. It didn’t happen. It didn’t happen in Massachusetts, or Texas, or Wisconsin or Pennsylvania or anywhere. Donald Trump ran a strong enough campaign to benefit from the work that had been done before him. But he didn’t tap into anything new. It was already there waiting for him.

PCBs: Where Worcester delayed, Princeton was decisive

PRINCETON — When town officials here learned that the Thomas Prince School was contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), an organic pollutant and presumed human carcinogen, they sprang into action.

The contamination was discovered in 2011 during a summer window replacement project. By summer’s end, the Wachusett Regional School District Committee had voted to transfer students in the affected part of the building to the Glenwood Elementary School in Rutland. Thomas Prince School’s then-Principal Thomas Pandiscio endorsed the action, wanting no part of any further exposure by students or staff to PCBs.

The student relocation lasted an entire school year, and cost more than $700,000, as the caulking was removed and replaced.

Complete Sun coverage:

But that was not the end.

Worcester schools flunking PCBs test, union says

Eight years after learning of the possible danger of PCBs in some of the city’s public schools, in June the union representing Worcester teachers won the right to test for the cancer-causing agents in Burncoat and Doherty Memorial high schools.

While the ruling was a victory for the Educational Association of Worcester (EAW), troubling questions remain: Why did all of this take so long, and why would the city act as obstructionist to a simple test brought on by concerns of possible elevated cancer rates in one of the city’s schools?

Burncoat High School

PCBs are most often found in window caulking but were also prevalent in older fluorescent lighting ballasts found at schools like Burncoat.

The Massachusetts Department of Labor Relations ruling contains many, but certainly not all, of the answers.

For while it details events as they unfolded, it is impossible to determine intent. The 86-page ruling details a stalemate between the union and city, which balked at testing even after the union conducted a surreptitious test that showed elevated levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in caulking in four schools.

Scroll down to check out the June decision and other related documents


Back to the beginning

The idea to test the school system stems from a 2008 presentation by a member of the Harvard School of Public Health before the Environmental Health and Safety Committee of the Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA).

More PCBs coverage:

Worcester a leader in early voting prep as option may draw one-quarter of electorate

The city of Worcester is joining dozens of communities across the Commonwealth in aiming for a much higher voter turnout than usual on Nov. 8, the day of the presidential election.

One reason for the anticipated higher turnout is that in a break with tradition, the election will not simply be held on that one day. Massachusetts has joined 36 other states in adopting an early voting calendar. In Worcester, that means voting will begin at some polling stations on Oct. 24 and continue until the Friday before Election Day.

You don't have to wait until Nov. 8 to hit the polls in the upcoming presidential election.


You don’t have to wait until Nov. 8 to hit the polls in the upcoming presidential election.

Early voting has a strategic component. In swing states that have early voting — Ohio, Florida, New Hampshire, for example — President Obama is timing his rallies with Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee for president, to early voting schedules. Early voting also mutes the effect of last-minute campaign ad blitzes.

Voting is not just sporadic locally, it is a national phenomenon election-by-election. Some state and local elections, like the Sept. 8 primary in a number of communities, attract voter percentages in the single digits. Presidential elections, on the other hand, traditionally bring out the largest crowds.

[Find a list of polling locations and further information from the city below.]

Worcester, state officials work to keep asthma problem from being swept under the rug

The northeast United States is the nation’s asthma belt. Massachusetts has one of the highest rates of asthma in the country and Worcester has one of the highest asthma hospitalization rates in Massachusetts. All together, that means Worcester is one of the most difficult cities in the country in which to take a breath.

The state’s perennially high ranking in this unfortunate category, while under the radar as general knowledge, has been catching the attention of health professionals for a long time. But they have not been able to reverse the tide. Massachusetts continues to rank highly, and in some years leads the nation, in asthma cases per capita.


This year, the American Lung Association gave an ‘F’ grade to seven Massachusetts counties as part of its annual “State of the Air” report that assigns letter grades to counties throughout the country based on ozone and particle pollution. The cleanest Massachusetts counties were Berkshire to the west and Suffolk to the east. They received a grade of C.

Worcester County, benefiting from being in the hills, received a D. But the city itself ranks as one of the most asthma-laden in the state. [Editor’s note: See page 96 of the linked report.]

The reasons why are numerous – substandard housing, low awareness of how to combat the affliction, and the general dirt and grime associated with an urban area. Still, there are many cities across the country that fare much better on the asthma scale.

Rep. Jim McGovern revels in Cuban presidential visit

The wild applause March 22 at Havana’s Estadio Latinoamericano was not for U.S. Rep. James P. McGovern, although he attended the baseball game that day between the Cuban nationals and Tampa Bay Rays. The tens of thousands were applauding President Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro for reopening relations between the United States and Cuba after more than a half-century of Cold War chill.

But it was McGovern who did much to lay the groundwork for this reunion.

He first visited Cuba in 1979 and has carried the torch for normalized relations as a major foreign policy initiative throughout his 20 years as a Worcester-based congressman.

There are still hurdles to overcome. The Republican congress has been cool to agreeing to any substantive changes, such as lifting the U.S. trade embargo. Still, in all, McGovern’s most recent trip to Cuba was a triumphant one and he is excited about the benefits to the United States that would result from having Cuba as a robust trading partner.

U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern

Wikimedia Commons

U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern

“For years I’ve advocated a different approach and at long last it’s happening,” McGovern told the Sun last week in an interview. “I think it’s good news for the Cuban people and good news for the people of the United States. Now the challenge is to get Congress to do its part, which is to lift the travel restrictions and lift the economic embargo.”

Also from Richard Nangle: Cause and effect at DCF — the road to tragedy

Cover story: Smile! You’re on someone’s camera

Imagine a silent documentary of your life from the minute you walk out of your home to begin your day.

Daily video records of your morning coffee run, trip to gas up the car, entry into your workplace, and your time on the clock. Cameras record you leaving for a meal break and coming back from it, the rest of your workday, your walk to the car or the bus or train station at the end of the day, and your trip home. If you decide to go anywhere afterward, cameras record that, too, along with your weekend itinerary.

You don’t have to imagine that kind of surveillance in Worcester. It’s already here.

The city is building its surveillance power by adding a network of private cameras to its expansive public safety system.

Courtesy Worcester Police Department

The city is building its surveillance power by adding a network of private cameras to its expansive public safety system.

The Worcester Police Department Camera Collaborative, working through local neighborhood associations and the Worcester PD mobile app, is compiling a list of private cameras throughout the city that scan parking lots, sidewalks, streets and parks, and now number more than 1,000. That’s on top of a network of more than 1,000 city cameras installed and monitored by the city.

A press release about the program reads in part, “Providing your local law enforcement agency with the location of your security camera empowers them with the information needed to catch criminals faster, and since you own the camera, your participation always remains 100 percent voluntary.”

So far, the program has been a hit with neighborhood watch groups.

“The police are aware that there’s a camera and they can go back and look at the tape if the property owner allows,” said Casey Starr, a community organizer with the Main South Community Development Corporation. “The police will not have access to the cameras. No one is looking at these cameras during the day.”

It all seems innocent enough, but is it really?

Cover story: Cause and effect at DCF – the road to tragedy

On March 31 the state Office of the Child Advocate, which oversees the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families, unleashed a scathing report resulting from an anonymous survey of state social workers and their managers.


The results were an indictment of the agency and its stewardship, particularly that of the recently departed Gov. Deval Patrick administration.

There were numerous complaints of understaffing. The report stated that a growing number of social workers were taking on more than 20 cases despite the state’s contract with their union calling for a 15:1 caseworker-to-family ratio, which is in line with federal standards.

“This environment is dangerous and is a tragedy waiting to happen. Please help us get to a place where we can safely manage our cases before another child dies and we are blamed!” — survey respondent

Locally, the situation was at its worst. Workers in the western region, which covers all four DCF offices in Central Massachusetts, including two in Worcester, reported a lower morale than any of their colleagues and nearly the lowest job satisfaction. The Worcester East office had more workers with 20+ caseloads (63) than all but 5 of the 29 area DCF outposts at a time when caseloads were jumping to 20 or more for about one-third of all DCF social workers.