PTA officials want committees to deal with air quality Jeffers Hill woes prompt recommendation

December 03, 1997|By Erin Texeira | Erin Texeira,SUN STAFF

In the wake of complaints at Columbia's Jeffers Hill Elementary School, Howard County PTA officials have called on all county schools to form parent committees to deal with air quality issues.

"We know a lot of the older schools in the area have major [ventilation] problems," said Melodi Smith, first vice president of the county PTA. "It just seems logical there is a possibility for health problems, and we feel we'd be remiss if we did not at least monitor this."

Smith spoke prior to a PTA meeting last night at Jeffers Hill, where such a committee was formed in October after an unusually high rate of school health room visits and health problems prompted concern about air quality.

That committee reported last night on the results of its research, suggesting to some 25 parents and teachers several options for dealing with the air quality issue. Among the options is an Environmental Protection Agency kit that helps schools assess air quality.

The Jeffers Hill PTA will vote on one option, which will be presented to the county PTA for recommendation to school officials on addressing air quality issues countywide, said Kate Horter, head of the Jeffers Hill committee.

"We want to work first to present to them preventive measures," Horter said. "Preventive maintenance is the absolute key issue. If you have that in place, you can reduce the number of problems."

Jeffers Hill parents are awaiting the results of extensive air quality tests that were conducted over the last several weeks by Aerosol Monitoring and Analysis Inc., a Hanover-based environmental consulting firm.

After early tests, Joseph Coco, a certified industrial hygienist and vice president of the company, found evidence of possible microscopic contamination in the school's antiquated ventilation system and soiled carpeting. He submitted a 45-page report to county officials early last month and is expected to issue a final report this month.

Last night's meeting came nearly two months after an article in The Sun described a pattern of chronic health complaints among those who work and attend classes at Jeffers Hill.

A litany of problems -- headaches, stomachaches, blurred vision and inability to concentrate, among others -- began surfacing there in the spring and escalated this school year.

Visits to the school health room for acute concerns are the highest per student -- more than double the average -- of any public elementary in Howard County, school data show.

School officials have refused to link the data to the chronic health complaints.

Since early October, the parents' PTA subcommittee has researched indoor air quality issues and reviewed school health records. And, in almost daily conversations, parents have pressed school officials to study what they say is potentially dangerous air quality at the school.

In response, school officials in mid-October announced they would hire the consultant. Results of the tests by Coco were expected before the end of October but are scheduled to be released by the end of next week, school officials said.

"There is really nothing we can say yet at this point," said Patti Caplan, a school system spokeswoman.

For years, school maintenance crews have serviced the antiquated heating and ventilation system at the school several times a week. Parents say that work has intensified in recent weeks and workers and those studying the air quality have been on the roof and in the corridors on a regular basis.

School officials were unavailable to comment on what work is being done.

Parents and teachers at the meeting said that air circulation in some school areas has improved in recent weeks but that temperature changes and chronic roof leaks persist. In October, school officials replaced several mold-covered ceiling tiles. Some parents fear the mold may have worsened air quality in classrooms.

"There are still wet tiles after every single storm," Horter said.

School officials have said they would support Jeffers Hill if parents there wanted to sign up for an EPA program called Tools For Schools. The program provides training to use a do-it-yourself kit for polling building users and charting observations that can help make preliminary conclusions regarding air quality.

The Jeffers Hill committee also is investigating how school officials in other jurisdictions and at the state level deal with indoor air quality problems.

Jeffers Hill committee members will meet with the Howard County Board of Education at school headquarters in Ellicott City at 7: 30 p.m. Monday to discuss air quality issues.

Pub Date: 12/03/97

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