Deer Park land history studied Research will look for possible sources of contamination

April 24, 1996|By Marego Athans | Marego Athans,SUN STAFF

Ever since the air quality crisis struck Deer Park Elementary School last month, rumors have circulated among parents and residents about the history of the site. One theory holds that the school was built on a dump; another a swamp.

Baltimore County officials said yesterday they've hired air quality specialists to get to the bottom of those suspicions.

Over the next couple of weeks, ATEC Associates Inc. will track the history of the land, probing whether there are storage tanks, buried waste or any other items that could contaminate the air or water.

"When I hear of the concerns and we don't have an answer, we owe it to the parents to look into it," said George Perdikakis, director of the county Department of Environmental Protection and Resource Management.

The school's most recent air quality problem exploded in March when parents found antifreeze leaking from the heating system and discovered that school officials had known about it for months -- while children and teachers were complaining that the air in the building was making them ill.

But before the latest uproar that forced the closing of the school March 27, the 28-year-old building had more than its share of environmental problems.

In 1993, after parents and teachers had been complaining for about six years of illness they said was related to the building, tests revealed the presence of 22 types of fungi and several types of bacteria. The school was closed for a year for renovations.

The latest episode, blamed primarily on poor ventilation, has sparked concerns about air systems in schools throughout the county. At Timber Grove Elementary School, where students and teachers have complained of headaches and respiratory problems, tests last week found dirty and poorly maintained heating, cooling and ventilation equipment.

The union that represents 2,000 school custodians, groundskeepers, cooks and other noninstructional employees plans to survey its members to determine any link between past illnesses and bad air quality in school buildings.

Union leaders will use the surveys to examine whether employees have been unfairly disciplined or terminated for abuse of sick leave, said Cecelia Fabula, chief negotiator for the local American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

School board members last night told educators they wanted procedures in place and the proper staffing and training to prevent the reoccurrence of a situation like Deer Park, where a more than $1.5 million renovation completed 18 months ago left a faulty heating, cooling and ventilation system suspected of making teachers and children ill.

County officials are urging parents to respond to a survey aimed at exploring symptoms experienced by their children who attend Deer Park. Parents had asked health officials to have their children tested or interviewed, but as of yesterday only 11 parents had responded to a survey, said county health director Michelle A. Leverett.

Parents are asked to attend a meeting at 7 p.m. Monday at Deer Park where Mr. Perdikakis, school and health officials and representatives of the engineering firms that analyzed the ventilation system at the school will discuss findings of the study.

Pub Date: 4/24/96

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