Expert says school needs more air testing Parents fear atmosphere at Jeffers Hill is unhealthy

October 22, 1997|By Erin Texeira | Erin Texeira,SUN STAFF

The environmental consultant investigating air quality complaints at Columbia's Jeffers Hill Elementary School said last night that he found evidence of possible microscopic contamination in the school's antiquated ventilation system and soiled carpeting.

The findings indicate that more extensive testing should be done, Joseph A. Coco of Hanover-based Aerosol Monitoring & Analysis Inc., said at a meeting with parents and school officials at Jeffers Hill last night. His firm was hired in response to parents' complaints about air quality at the school.

Coco's testing at the school last Tuesday found that the temperature, humidity and levels of carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide at Jeffers Hill were generally normal, with a few slight exceptions.

"We found a fair amount of dust and debris in some ducts, which can promote microbial growth," Coco said. "We consider that at least a potential factor that needs to be looked at."

Coco plans to begin the second phase of testing that will include air and carpet sampling at the school today and tomorrow.

Last night's meeting was called by parents and PTA officials who fear that poor ventilation and possible air quality problems may be linked to unusually high numbers of health room visits.

School data showed that visits last year to Jeffers Hill's health room for acute concerns were the highest per student -- more than double the county average -- of any public elementary school in Howard County.

School officials have refused to link the data to chronic complaints of headaches, stomachaches, blurred vision and inability to concentrate among children and adults at Jeffers Hill. The complaints surfaced in the spring and escalated this school year.

The meeting came two weeks after an article in The Sun described a pattern of chronic health complaints among those who work at and attend Jeffers Hill.

Jeffers Hill will undergo renovations -- the first at the 23-year-old school -- in more than half its building, starting in the spring. The remaining portion will be renovated in the summer of 1999, provided that funding is approved, Associate School Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin said.

"This is really frustrating for me," June Cofield, who has been active in the air quality issue, said of the inconclusive reports.

Directing her comments to school officials, she said: "I just want you to know we're not going away. We have not really reached any conclusions here this evening. This is not over."

Pub Date: 10/22/97

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