Parents demand that school be closed They say chemical at Deer Park Elementary is making students ill

March 20, 1996|By Lisa Respers | Lisa Respers,SUN STAFF

Dozens of parents demanded the closing of a Randallstown elementary school yesterday and some already are keeping their children at home because of a chemical leaking from its heating system that they say is making the youngsters ill.

Ethylene glycol, an antifreeze substance, is leaking into four rooms at Deer Park Elementary on Lyons Mill Road and has left a brownish-yellow stain on floors and a sweet, vinegary smell in rooms and hallways.

Parents say children are complaining of breathing problems, headaches, nausea, fatigue, skin rashes and eye irritation.

"It's being inhaled by the students," said Gloria Royster, who kept her two children home yesterday. "A lot of the kids are developing respiratory problems and allergies."

Baltimore County schools spokesman Donald I. Mohler said an indoor air quality study has been commissioned and plans have been made to flush and repair the system over the spring break, which begins at the close of classes March 29.

Students moved

Students have been moved from the four affected rooms, and environmental specialists contacted by the school system say the children are not at risk, Mr. Mohler said.

"We continue to be assured that the ethylene glycol that is leaking from the system is an irritant that does not pose a health risk to the children," Mr. Mohler said.

"We don't think at this time that it warrants shutting down a school with 500 students."

But a group of parents held a news conference there yesterday to demand a shutdown and studies to determine if the leaking substance is hazardous.

"We demand that an air quality study is done prior to cleanup and repair of the leaking ventilation system and a report be made available immediately to the parents and teachers of Deer Park," said Michael Johnson, chairman of a committee of parents established to monitor the situation.

"We also demand that a second study and report be made available after the cleanup, before anyone is allowed to re-enter Deer Park Elementary."

$1.5 million renovation

Deer Park was closed and its students moved to Chatsworth School in Reisterstown during the 1993-1994 school year for a $1.5 million renovation that included replacing the roof, tiles and heating system.

The leakage is not related to problems that led to that renovation, Mr. Mohler said.

Parent James Pollitt noted that his son was diagnosed with asthma before the Deer Park renovation, and "he wasn't sick the whole year they were at Chatsworth. As soon as he came back here, he started having attacks again."

At an emergency meeting Monday night, parents met with school officials and expressed their concern. At that time, they learned the school system had been aware of the leakage since December.

System drained

"Our office of physical facilities was made aware of the problem in December, and the system was drained over the Christmas break," Mr. Mohler said. "There was apparently residue left over and that is what has continued to leak."

According to Dow Chemical Co., a major producer of ethylene glycol, "The low vapor pressure of glycol compounds virtually eliminates all chances of excessive exposure by inhalation at room temperature."

At higher temperatures, however, the substance can be harmful, particularly in confined areas, according to the company.

Mr. Mohler noted that attendance at the school has been consistent, at a level of about 95 percent, and has not reflected evidence of chronic illness among students.

Pub Date: 3/20/96

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