Tests fail to pinpoint source of odor problem at Carroll Springs School's solar panels are suspected

February 13, 1996|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,SUN STAFF

Laboratory results came in yesterday but didn't pinpoint what is making the water smell like rubbing alcohol at Carroll Springs School.

All tests by a private lab in Baltimore were negative for the three substances that are suspected of causing the hot tap water in Rooms 9 and 12 to give off an odor since Jan. 23, said Vernon Smith, director of support services for the county schools.

But officials still suspect three substances -- isopropanol, ethylene glycol and propylene glycol.

The two glycols, especially, were suspected from the start because they are present inside solar panels at the school. Although there is no isopropanol, also known as isopropyl alcohol, in the panels, officials are testing for it because its odor is closest to the one at the school.

"We've asked the labs to address the odor issue, and maybe they can address why there is still an odor," Mr. Smith said. He said it is possible the three substances could give off a slight odor even when they are present in too small a concentration to show up in tests.

One explanation could be that daily flushing -- turning on the hot water in all sinks and letting it run for a few hours -- has reduced the concentration of the culprit so that it isn't showing up, said Edwin Singer, water quality supervisor for the Carroll County Health Department, which is working with the school on the problem.

The flushing was necessary as an immediate precaution to keep from contaminating the Westminster city water supply, he said. Also, it is common practice in efforts to flush out contaminants, he said.

The two glycols have been detected in low levels in the solar collection panels that heat the school's swimming pool. Part of an antifreeze substance in the panels, the glycols are supposed to circulate in a sealed system and never flow into the swimming pool or any water supply, Mr. Smith said.

Nevertheless, as a precaution, the school disconnected the solar panels within days of the detection of the odor,Mr. Smith said. They remain disconnected.

"We already knew there was glycol in the panels," Mr. Smith said. But no tests have concluded that it got into the hot water supply or how that might have happened. "We may never know," he said.

In the meantime, the special education school uses bottled water for drinking and has trucked in water in large bins with spigots for hand-washing.

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