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Edgewater Elementary parents still concerned about building's air quality

On an evening when the weather was unseasonably warm, the Edgewater Elementary School cafeteria was uncomfortably stuffy. Doors were opened to allow cooler air inside, providing some relief for dozens of parents, students and staff who assembled last week to hear a preliminary report on air quality at the school.

Moments later, it was the report's findings that seemed to make many people uncomfortable.

Parents said despite the fact that an independent consulting firm plans to take steps to control the mold growth it discovered in the school, they are still concerned about health issues for students.

Said parent Casey Ireland after the meeting Tuesday, "These kids are sick all the time. The Board of Education couldn't even show up at this meeting and act as if they care or have any concerns. They're trying to fix concerns that have been here for 60 years."

Building Dynamics LLC, the firm hired by the school system to probe the community complaints, said that two weeks of evaluations found mold growth and dampness in crawl spaces that have affected certain locations inside the school.

Ed Light, president of the Ashton-based firm, said the dampness and mold problems can be resolved by controlling steam-pipe leaks and isolating the crawl spaces. Very little mold has come up into the building, he said.

"We can eliminate the dampness and the mold exposure here very quickly, really within the maintenance budget," said Light, who added that the final report will be available within a few weeks.

Light said his firm does not think there is any health hazard, but added, "Indoor dampness and mold growth can affect sensitive individuals."

But many parents reiterated that there must be something about the building that is making students and staff sick. They complained of often-serious respiratory problems suffered by their children that have required repeated doctor visits, daily medications and frequent absences from school.

Edgewater is slated for a complete maintenance study in 2016, but parents at Tuesday's meeting asked what would be done for the school's current students; most of them will have graduated by the time the feasibility study begins, they said.

Said Jenny Corkill, president of the Edgewater Elementary PTA, "Once the issues are addressed today, what's going to happen six months from now or a year from now when we have these problems again, which we will, because our school is 60 years old? How are we going to know that these problems are going to be fixed as they need to be?"

Lisa Seaman-Crawford, Anne Arundel public schools director of facilities, said, "I can't change the past, but I can change the future, and we are committed with Building Dynamics to find out what's going on with the building and to correct it."

She said that only the school board could move the school up on the priority list for repairs.

Light also said that the discomfort from indoor temperatures could be resolved through better operation of ventilation, heating and air conditioning equipment. He praised the school's custodians for keeping dust levels under control, adding that allergic reactions in school buildings are often caused by too much dust.

After Light offered his report, Dr. Hung Cheung, a Baltimore-based occupational and environmental medicine adviser, addressed health concerns — namely, what happens when people are exposed to mold growth and excessive dampness.

Cheung said that in general, those who have existing medical conditions, including allergies and asthma, are more susceptible to mold-related problems and could have health problems. But healthy people will likely not have issues, he said.

Cheung added that those who believe they might have mold-related health problems should consult their doctors.

Asked if the ailments suffered by Edgewater students and staff should go away once the targeted areas are addressed, Cheung said, "I would suspect they should."

Building Dynamics' study is the third conducted at Edgewater Elementary since November. The previous two are posted on the Edgewater Elementary page of the Anne Arundel public schools' website. Schools spokesman Bob Mosier said the Building Dynamics report will be placed there as well.

"Even though Mr. Light's preliminary findings indicate that there is not a health hazard at Edgewater, there are, as we have long said, ongoing issues of serious concern," Mosier said. "We continue to address those concerns as best as we are able and to remediate issues as they arise.

"Edgewater is a 60-year-old building that has issues typically associated with a building of that age," Mosier added. "Our $1.5 billion maintenance backlog is well documented, and the county has simply not provided a level of funding in recent years to allow us to make significant dents in that backlog. We have many, many schools with significant needs, and the answer to addressing those needs is to obtain a level of funding that will allow us to tackle projects more quickly."

Light said he is confident that the mold and dampness can be controlled. He said the audience offered suggestions that he will implement, including monitoring the building after it is fixed.

"There's no guarantee that that's going to stop all asthma and all health problems here," Light said. "People are going to have health problems, but this will eliminate the exposure that has caused a potential for allergy and asthma."

joseph.burris@baltsun.com

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