Rhonda Rivera, 50, who has worked as a teacher’s aide at the Bronx New School, PS 51 since 1993, filed a lawsuit on Dec. 9, claiming that working at the toxic site gave her cancer.
The suit claims that the carcinogen chemical trichloroethylene, or TCE, caused Ms. Rivera’s “pancreatic and liver cancer, mental and emotional injuries and distress, and a loss of quality and enjoyment of life,” according to court documents.
As a result of the cancer, portions of her spleen and pancreas were removed.
Department of Education officials confirmed in February that levels of TCE exceeding state guidelines were present in the school’s former location, at 3200 Jerome Ave., particularly in the air of the cafeteria and basement, but did not alert the PS 51 community until August. The school was moved to 695 E. 182nd St. in time for the start of the new school year.
TCE is a colorless, sweet-smelling liquid that is primarily used to remove grease from metal parts. Exposure can result in dizziness, headaches, confusion, euphoria, facial numbness, weakness, developmental issues, cancer (particularly in the liver) and death, according to the Environmental Protection Agency and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.
The Department of Education is not named in the lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages against building owners. It names former building owner and lighting manufacturer Nessen Lamps, which allegedly “negligently, recklessly and carelessly” dumped hundreds of gallons of toxic chemicals at the site.
The Rinzler Family Limited Partnership is also named. The lawsuit charges that the owners “should have known of the dangers of the hazardous chemicals present … ”
Neither The Rinzler Family Partnership nor Nessen Lighting responded to calls for comment by press time.
“We took this on because we believe in the case,” Ms. Rivera’s lawyer, Bernard Daskal, said in a phone interview.