High counts of mold and fungal spores that may aggravate the allergies of highly sensitive students are being blamed on a roof that's leaked for more than a decade at Jacobsville Elementary.
But county health officials dispute the findings of a recently released environmental report on the problem.
Cleaning crews have worked feverishly for the last five evenings, disinfecting the school on the recommendation of an indoor air quality study, prepared by OMC Inc., environmental consultants, in Lanham, which found above normal airborne microbial levels in the school.
The report also notes that the micro-organisms may cause respiratory problems for immune deficient students and staff members, or those on steroids, chemotherapy or with debilitating diseases.
Ironically, Dr. Katherine Farrell, director of county health services refutes the report and its findings. Farrell sent a letter today to the Board of Education, questioning the testing techniques and recommendations.
"After a careful evaluation, I find no reason for concern with this school's survey results," Farrell wrote. "Measurements were made in August prior to the opening of school. The finding of temperatures and humidity above comfortable range in Maryland should not be a surprise, especially since the building was open to the outside. The value of doing air measurements under these circumstance is questionable.
"The finding of airborne bacteria is of doubtful significance. The normal school environment is not sterile. Most are not (disease producing) organisms."
The OMC report was completed on Sept. 6., and made the following recommendations: * Routine cleaning of non-porous horizontal surfaces with one cup of bleach to one gallon of water. Porous materials should be vacuumed with a high-efficiency vacuum.
* Temperature and relative humidity should be maintained between 68 and 75 degrees and 30 to 50 percent respectively.
* Take more samples one month after recommendations are implemented.
But Farrell argued against following OMC directions for using bleach to clean schools.
"Ordinary cleaning methods should be sufficient," she wrote. "Bleach is not permitted for use in Anne Arundel County schools due to its toxicity.
As a parent, I would have no problem sending my child to Jacobsville Elementary."
Farrell is former chairwoman of the governor's task force on indoor air quality and former assistant secretary for toxic environmental science and health at the Maryland Department of Environment.
With conflicting reports surfacing, Jane Riedy, a parent and president of the school's Parent Teacher Organization, wants to make sure the problem is completely addressed before a new roof is placed on the 28-year-old school.
The PTO initially requested the study after County Councilman Edward C.
"Buddy" Ahern convinced the County Council to pay for a new roof and had it included in the school system's capital budget last spring. Work is scheduled to begin on Oct. 22 on the $213,000 roof.
Riedy took her concerns to school board members Monday night, and is asking that the all bacteria be thoroughly cleared from the roof foundation before a new one is attached.
"The bacteria can still be in between the tile," Riedy said yesterday.
"We are afraid that if you put a $200,000 roof on the building, it will be a bandage. As humid as it is, we are afraid it is not going to have time to dry. We are asking the school board to make sure they look into it carefully."
Jacobsville principal Wayne Miller said cleaning crews have worked over the weekend and will complete the cleaning tonight.