School system to test building for potential health risks

One Legionnaires' case was confirmed at Faulkner


February 23, 2005|By Hanah Cho | Hanah Cho,SUN STAFF

The Howard County school system plans to conduct buildingwide tests at Faulkner Ridge Center to assess potential health risks after one confirmed case of Legionnaires' disease in the fall and on-and-off concerns about respiratory problems from staff members there, school officials said yesterday.

"Even though the Health Department has said it doesn't meet their criteria for testing, we're going to go ahead and conduct tests to make sure there are not any building-related health risks," said Patti Caplan, the school system's spokeswoman.

"The superintendent [Sydney L. Cousin] is committed to conducting the tests as soon as possible," she said.

County health officials, including Dr. Penny Borenstein, the county health officer, met with about 40 employees at Faulkner Ridge Center yesterday after suspicions of a second case of Legionnaires' disease frightened staff members who work at the former Columbia elementary school building.

Borenstein assured the group that "the second person at this point does not have Legionnaires' disease," said Lisa Heyward, director of public information for the Health Department.

The one confirmed case involving the bacterium Legionella pneumophila - symptoms of infection include fever, chills and a cough - occurred in October.

Health officials have not pinpointed a source of the disease.

A second woman reported respiratory symptoms, but health officials said test results do not point to Legionnaires'.

The two women work in a section with nine people who develop programs for children with visual impairments.

The women's co-workers are in the process of being moved, Caplan said.

In the event of an outbreak - which is not the case at Faulkner Ridge - county and state health officials would conduct a thorough inspection of the building, Heyward said.

"At this point, there were a lot of questions of the school system and the Health Department, and the questions were answered," she said of yesterday's meeting.

Still, some employees are wary. About 75 school employees from student disability, early intervention and international student services work at the center, which was built in 1969.

"We think the Health Department should err in the side of caution," said Melissa Berger, the Faulkner Ridge representative for the Howard County Education Association who works with visually impaired students.

Berger said she and another employee have been tested by their private physicians for the disease.

Berger said she will know the results tomorrow.

"I'm still uncomfortable," she said. "I'm camped out in the cafeteria."

Health officials said they will continue to work with school officials.

"We definitely want to make sure that everyone is happy and comfortable in their working environment," Heyward said.

Between 8,000 and 18,000 people are infected with Legionnaires' disease annually in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The disease is not contagious and spreads after people breathe mists from a water source such as showers and spas contaminated with Legionella, according to the CDC.

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