After mold cleanup, complaints persist Bad air, illness continue at Fullerton elementary

November 15, 1996|By Marego Athans | Marego Athans,SUN STAFF

Despite a widespread cleanup of mold and a $30,000 floor-tile replacement that closed Fullerton Elementary School for seven days late last month, parents and teachers are again complaining of poor air quality and illness, and health experts have found ventilation problems at the school.

More than a week after the school reopened Nov. 6, six children remain home on doctors' recommendations.

Teachers are reporting burning eyes, shortness of breath, sinus problems and other illnesses.

"Our taxes pay for our school," PTA president Dawn Ryan told school officials at a meeting at facilities headquarters yesterday.

"You fixed Deer Park," she said, referring to the elementary school that got a new air system after an air-quality debacle closed the school in March. "We want our school fixed."

Health experts from the Johns Hopkins University, working as consultants, told school officials, teachers and parents that the cleanup reduced levels of mold in the air.

But tests also revealed inadequate temperature and humidity controls and problems with the ventilation system, which could be boosting levels of mold and bacteria in the air.

Because children and teachers have not been physically examined, the experts said they have been unable to determine if a link exists among the headaches, eye, nose and throat irritation, rashes, sinus infections and other illnesses reported.

The experts recommended that such evaluations take place as soon as possible.

Parents, meanwhile, asked why the examinations hadn't been done when Hopkins experts had recommended them from the beginning.

"Here it is a month later, and we don't even have any evidence," said parent Mary Larichiuta.

The county health department interviewed 41 children and 15 staff members in late October, but did not examine them physically.

School and health officials said the focus at the time was on cleaning the mold -- which was thought to be the source of the illness -- and they wanted to gather information as quickly as possible.

School officials said yesterday they plan to begin the evaluations immediately.

"We ought to be able to have something like this up and running in a few days," said associate superintendent Stephen Jones.

A survey of teachers presented yesterday by teacher Sonja Karwacki showed that since teachers returned to school Nov. 4, 64 percent reported dry, itchy, burning eyes, 64 percent had sinus problems and 41 percent had tightness in the chest, among other complaints.

Dr. Clifford S. Mitchell, assistant professor at the Hopkins School of Public Health, said a comprehensive evaluation of the health effects could take months, but doctors should be able to reach some early conclusions by immediately evaluating those most severely affected.

Dr. Robert G. Hamilton, associate professor at the Hopkins School of Medicine, recommended removal of the fiberglass duct insulation, which he called a reservoir for particles and mold spores.

Pub Date: 11/15/96

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