Chemical keeps students at home Nearly a third of pupils absent at Deer Park school because of leak

March 21, 1996|By Lisa Respers | Lisa Respers,SUN STAFF

Nearly a third of the students at Deer Park Elementary School were absent yesterday many of them kept home by parents who say a chemical leaking from the heating system is making the youngsters ill.

Parents rushed to make arrangements for the care of their children, with some staying home from work and others arranging for neighbors to help. For students, it was a day of video games and television and completing schoolwork brought home.

Ethylene glycol, an antifreeze substance, has leaked into four rooms and stained carpets and floors at the school on Lyons Mill Road in Randallstown. Students have complained of breathing problems, eye irritations and sickness.

Yesterday, 152 of the 500 students stayed home; the school's normal rate of absenteeism is about 5 percent.

Some parents have said that despite school officials' assurances that the heating system will be flushed and the leakage cleaned up over spring break, their children will not be returning until an air quality study is conducted to determine the building's safety.

"My children definitely won't be in for the rest of the week," said Lisa Artis, who left her two daughters in the care of a friend yesterday. "We're not taking any chances."

The complaints come three years after Deer Park was closed for a $1.5 million renovation. An air quality study done before that closing found 20 contaminants, including fungi colonies growing on ceilings and bacterial growth in air ducts.

"I don't believe the renovation was done properly," said Garland Chase, a Deer Park parent who picked up his three sons' assignments from school yesterday. "They can try to divide us and say that we are hysterical, but the fact of the matter is that a whole bunch of parents have kids who have developed respiratory problems or gotten sick."

Mr. Chase, an assembly-line worker home from General Motors' Broening Highway plant because of a strike-related shutdown, spent the day with a house full of energetic boys.

Sons Justin, 9, Trevor, 7, and Christian, 5, all stayed home from Deer Park.

Blasts of Nintendo noises mingled with beeps from a home computer. The floors shook as the boys ran through the Randallstown house. By afternoon, a dozen doughnuts and sandwiches had been consumed and a frozen meal fought over as Mr. Chase prepared dinner five pounds of Italian sausage.

"Yes, they have been getting on my nerves," said Mr. Chase. "But I'm not going to send my children to a sick building."

Trevor suffers from a constant cough and Christian a runny nose, Mr. Chase said. A trip to the doctor could not find the source of Justin's blinding headaches, he said.

"After a while you get to know your kids and you know when they are faking sick because they just don't want to go to school," Mr. Chase said. "Justin was really in pain."

Justin said the headaches would occur after he sat on his classroom's carpeting to play games. Now, the youngster said, he's afraid to return to school because "I don't want to get sick again."

The ethylene glycol was drained from the heating system over Christmas break and officials have said the leakage is residue.

County schools spokesman Donald I. Mohler maintained that the school is safe for students and said officials are looking into the possibility of expediting a cleanup of the school.

"We may be able to get in there sooner and start the cleanup," Mr. Mohler said. "The rugs will be cut up and replaced and the tiles cleaned."

An air quality study commissioned by the school system will take 10 to 14 days, Mr. Mohler said.

Teresa Long's three children worked on the family's computer to occupy themselves yesterday.

Ms. Long said she is waiting until after a Parent Teacher Association meeting scheduled for 7 p.m. tomorrow at Deer Park to decide whether she will allow her children to return.

"It's an inconvenience because they should be receiving their education," Ms. Long said. "I don't think it's good enough to just drain the pipes again."

Pub Date: 3/21/96

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