Thursday, July 10, 2008

Independent study finds acceptable air at elementary school

Kemptown’s portables deemed safe from health risks for students

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An independent study of the air quality inside six portable classrooms at Kemptown Elementary School in Monrovia has found no significant conditions that could pose health risks to students.

The June 16 report, conducted by an industrial hygienist from AERO Environmental Health & Safety Inc., in Ellicott City, was recently made public to Kemptown Elementary School parents. Frederick County Public Schools paid for the investigation.

On May 28, the industrial hygienist visually inspected each of the portables and measured temperatures and levels of humidity, carbon dioxide, hydrocarbon and mold spores inside the classrooms. The purpose of the investigation was to identify problems that could create poor indoor air quality or worsen it.

Earlier this year, some parents of fourth-graders were concerned that the air quality inside the portables was making their children sick. Parents said students complained of chronic headaches, coughs, nausea and unexplained bloody noses. All fourth-grade students at Kemptown Elementary attend classes in the portables. The buildings range in age from four to 31 years old.

In April, Laura Olsen, industrial hygienist for Frederick County Public Schools, tested the indoor air quality of the portables and found normal temperature, humidity and carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide levels. A previous test for mold and moisture in March showed no adequate conditions for mold to grow inside the classrooms.

After a May 8 meeting with parents to discuss these findings, school staff agreed to increase the ventilation in the portables.

According to AERO’s report, temperature and humidity levels in all portables were within the acceptable ranges of 68 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit and 30 to 60 percent, respectively, as recommended by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers.

No other sources of hydrocarbons, or gases emitted from the uses of products, were found other than hand sanitizer in one portable. The investigation concluded that mold spores were generally higher outside than inside the classrooms.

Air supply vents to the heating and cooling systems appeared clean and the units were functioning. The report also notes bowed or water-stained ceiling tiles in five of the portables, but no evidence of mold that day.

Though AERO Environmental Health & Safety found these indicators of indoor air quality acceptable, the company recommended that the school replace all water-stained ceiling tiles and dry the wet carpet around a water cooler in portable No. 2. The company also recommended that the school inspect behind the wall beneath one of the water-stained tiles in portable No. 2 for mold.

Ray Barnes, facilities director for Frederick County schools, said these recommendations will be completed by the time school starts in August. Kemptown is scheduled to lose two portables this summer since enrollment is projected to decrease from 523 to 504 in the fall.

Barnes said the school system is looking to create standardized procedures that would address parent and staff concerns about indoor air quality.