New DeKalb school near hazardous materials worries fire marshal

1:51 p.m Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2018 Education
The current Smoke Rise Elementary School, at 1999 Silver Hill Road in Stone Mountain. The school’s new building is being built within 2,000 feet of a hazardous materials manufacturer. (Marlon A. Walker / marlon.walker@ajc.com)

The DeKalb County School District is moving ahead with plans to build a new Smoke Rise Elementary School in Tucker, though an email from the DeKalb County fire marshal says the site is dangerously close to a hazardous materials manufacturer.

DeKalb County School District officials said they’ve taken steps to mitigate concerns, including adding a boundary wall.

The school, to be located at 4740 Hugh Howell Road in Tucker, is expected to open for students by fall 2020.

The email from Fire Marshal Joseph Cox, dated Nov. 30, states that the proposed school site is about 1,900 feet from LPS Laboratories, described in the email as “heavy industrial with bulk hazardous materials storage, handling and manufacturing.” Cox mentioned a Texas fire in 2013 that drove organizations such as the Environmental Protection Agency to suggest a minimum 3,000-foot buffer between new schools and potential fire, explosion and air quality risks.

Cox also discussed other areas of concern, including the company’s above-ground tanks holding hazardous materials, including approximately 18,000 gallons of gas, between 70,000 and 100,000 Class A flammable liquids, bulk storage for manufactured aerosols; an underground hazmat pipeline and frequent transportation of hazardous materials, including chlorine.

Joshua Williams, DeKalb Schools’ chief operations officer, said the location is within the state’s regulations for proximity to a hazardous materials manufacturer. The school district announced the site for the new school late last year, and had gone through much of its due diligence by the end of November. Williams said a third-party engineer’s suggestions have resulted in several items to protect the location, including adding height to the boundary wall.

“As always, we’re always concerned about student safety,” Williams said. “And we ensure we follow state-mandated risk-management protocols.”

Rebecca Morris, a former DeKalb teacher who serves as an advocate for residents in underserved communities, said the matter simply adds to her concerns on site selection for new DeKalb schools. When the district announced a new school in Doraville would be built on the site of current affordable housing, she questioned whether steps were taken to avoid displacing about 100 families, mostly Latino, some of them undocumented residents who couldn’t attain jobs to pay typical rent rates upwards of $1,500 in the immediate area.

“I have not been able to get evidence of thorough due diligence from the county,” she said. “All the sites they looked at had some risk associated. I was looking for some write-up on eliminating (risk concerns). There’s none.”