School asks health agency for help

July 22, 1993|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,Staff Writer

Carroll school officials are asking the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health to help identify what might be making a Mount Airy Elementary School teacher and some students sick.

A group of parents first asked the federal agency to step in, but its policy is to respond only to requests from employees, employers or unions.

Vernon Smith, director of support services for Carroll County public schools, said he will send a letter this week to the agency asking for help.

However, he said, a case manager at NIOSH told him the agency has been "inundated" with requests.

"I do not know whether or not we will be helped," Mr. Smith said.

In the meantime, the school system has taken other steps, and Mr. Smith believes the problem has been isolated to bacteria growing in a carpet in the first- and second-grade sections of the building.

The bacteria, acinetobacter and enterobacter, are present in animal feces and were probably tracked in on shoes, he said.

Next week, contractors are scheduled to rip out that carpet and replace it with vinyl tile, at a cost of about $5,800 for the six classrooms.

That part of the building is built on a concrete slab with no barrier to keep out moisture that seeps up from the ground, Mr. Smith said.

It also is not air-conditioned and can get hot and humid, which may explain why bacteria found such a hospitable environment there, Mr. Smith said.

No other part of the building was tested for the bacteria.

A physician with the Maryland Department of the Environment and members of the Carroll County Health Department have been working with the school and surveying parents on the problem.

Christine Bingaman, whose daughters reported some of the most severe symptoms, was among the parents who sought help from NIOSH.

She said the agency could bring more expertise to the problem.

She criticized school officials for not testing air-exchange systems and old sewer pipes above the ceiling.

Mr. Smith said those sewer pipes have since been removed or capped as a precaution.

But they have been dry for several years and are not suspected as a source of the bacteria, he said.

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