Balto. Co. to survey Deer Park pupils' ills Students complaining of headaches, rashes

April 18, 1996|By Lisa Respers | Lisa Respers,SUN STAFF

Responding to complaints that headaches, rashes and other symptoms of students at troubled Deer Park Elementary School have been overlooked, county officials will begin today to collect information about the children's illnesses.

A health survey will be sent home with the 500 students, who are attending two nearby Baltimore County schools in the wake of Deer Park Elementary's March 27 closing.

Some parents said the survey -- and the county's acknowledgment of problems at Deer Park Elementary -- were long overdue.

"Parents who have been working on this should be apologized to because we were told that we were overzealous, overreacting parents," said James Pollitt, part of a parent committee that has been compiling results of its own health survey. "Initially, we were talked to very little, and all we knew was that our kids were sick."

Teacher and student illnesses have been at the center of the crisis at Deer Park Elementary, where many parents, concerned about an antifreeze substance leaking from the building's heating system, pulled their children out of school last month. Complaints of respiratory problems, headaches, rashes and vomiting led parents to demand that the school be closed and air-quality tests conducted.

Health officials have said the poor ventilation and leaking antifreeze could trigger respiratory problems among students and teachers.

Study made public

Tuesday, the county released a study showing that students were attending classes in rooms that did not meet air-quality standards, because school officials installed improper equipment that maintenance workers did not know how to operate.

This week, students from the school near Randallstown began attending classes at Hernwood Elementary School and Deer Park Middle and Magnet School. But parents still are concerned about lingering health problems, and the county's health survey marks its first comprehensive effort to chronicle the problems.

"Parents had voiced concern that no data was being collected about the children's symptoms," said Dr. Shirin R. deSilva, who supervised recent testing and will evaluate the surveys. "The parents want to know collectively what type of symptoms their children had been having."

The survey is a modified version of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health's Indoor Air Quality and Work Environment Symptoms Survey.

Survey had errors

Dr. deSilva said another survey had been mailed to students' homes this week. But officials realized a copier malfunction had caused errors, and parents requested that the survey be revised to include questions about stomach problems some students had suffered.

Teachers from the school near Randallstown completed the questionnaire weeks ago, as part of a study aimed at uncovering any link between their symptoms and conditions in the building.

While teachers were given the option of filling out the surveys anonymously, Dr. deSilva said she is asking parents to provide detailed information, including their names and the names of students.

George G. Perdikakis, director of the county's Department of Environmental Protection and Resource Management, said officials plan to meet with parents in a few days to update them on continuing testing at the school.

$1.5 million renovation

Parent Lisa Artis said the survey should help officials determine what went wrong at Deer Park Elementary, which was closed three years ago for a renovation of more than $1.5 million after bacteria and fungal contaminants were found to be causing illnesses.

"I want [county officials] to know what I have been experiencing," said Ms. Artis, whose daughters, ages 5 and 10, are students at Deer Park. "When it first happened, they were going on the information provided by the teachers, but there are a lot more students than there are teachers."

Pub Date: 4/18/96

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