N. Harford Elementary's Mold Provokes Protest

October 13, 1991|By Samuel Goldreich | Samuel Goldreich,Staff writer

Pupils, parents and staff at North Harford Elementary School say they are sick of air-quality problems that have caused mold to grow, children to choke and walls to cry.

"Teachers, students, guinea pigs have had enough," Verna Preis, a North Harford teacher told the County Council, sitting as the Board of Health on Tuesday. "I want the airconditioning -- or should I say the mold-, mildew-, humidity-making machine -- removed."

She complained that "23 pieces of tape can't hold a thin chart tothe wall during air-conditioning periods" at the Pylesville school.

About 20 parents listened as School Superintendent Ray R. Keech recounted efforts to lower humidity and stop dripping that leaves wallsand floors slick with water.

In the past two years, the school system has spent more than $110,000 replacing moldy carpets with new tiles, scrubbing surfaces, installing dehumidifiers and testing air samples, Keech said.

"I'm not convinced that we don't have most of the problem licked at this time," he said. "At no time in any of the studies has somebody told me the building is unhealthy or unsafe."

The school system plans more air-quality tests and will begin reinsulating ceiling pipes within the next few weeks to stop dripping.

Keech said North Harford's 94.3 percent attendance rate from the 1988-1989 school year, before humidity improvements were made, have been comparable to other elementary schools', suggesting that there is not a "horrendous" health situation.

But parents complained at the meeting that children with asthma and other existing respiratory problems have been aggravated by chronic headaches, nasal congestion, coughingand sneezing.

"If you want to know why our absentee rate is good,it's because we're not the kind of parents who are going to let our kids just be sick," Ronnie Martin said.

Like many parents, she complained of medical bills reaching into the thousands of dollars, withrepeated tests at Johns Hopkins Hospital and expensive steroids to treat asthma.

Others said their children have had to use progressively stronger antibiotics and steroids during the school year.

Karen Moore said she had to hire a tutor because her daughter missed so many school days last year.

"She'll go all day without using her inhaler," she said. "But when she's in school, she'll use it at least twice a day because she gets stuffy and can't breathe."

Moore took a poll in May 1990, before the latest improvements. It showed that all but two of 104 pupils with pre-existing conditions suffered more while attending school, with 35 using more medication. The school has an enrollment of about 600 pupils, and 412 responded to the poll.

Parents, many of whom said poor air has persisted since North Harford opened in 1984, agreed that conditions seemed to have improved since dehumidifying equipment was installed in March and no new mold has appeared this year.

Keech told the council that the humidity problemseemed to be solved until the weekend of Sept. 13, when the air-conditioning unit was shut down for the weekend to investigate a "rattle."

When the system was turned back on the following Monday, Keech said, the same 100-degree heat that caused some schools to close that week overtaxed the ventilation system.

A teacher slipped and fell on one of North Harford's floors left wet by the buildup of moisture,Keech and others said.

Keech said humidity levels in the school since then have been in the upper 50s, comparable to other county schools, and three air-quality tests conducted by separate companies in August and September have found no cause for continued respiratory symptoms in pupils.

If health problems persist, Keech said, the school system will do whatever it takes to correct the situation. He wouldnot rule it out when Councilman Robert S. Wagner, R-District D askedabout eventually closing the school and redistricting pupils.

Council members urged Keech to seek recovery of county expenses -- including replacement of moldy books and other materials -- from Basco Associates, the York-based company that built the school. Keech suggested that a lawsuit might be necessary to resolve who should pay for damages.

A Basco spokesman said the company was not made aware of problems at North Harford until 3 1/2 years after the school opened. Since then, the company has cleaned the ventilation system, replaced filters and changed cooling coils.

"To the best of our knowledge, thesituation has been corrected," Basco project manager Joe Crumbling said. "But we've been willing to work with the county and will continue to work with the county to resolve the issue."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.