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School tested to find out why students are ailing SOUTHWEST -- Mount Airy * Woodbine * Taylorsville * Winfield


Carroll County school officials yesterday said they will continue to make repairs at Mount Airy Elementary School and conduct tests to determine what, if anything, about the school is making some students sick.

Tests for air contaminants, methane, hydrogen sulfide, radon and dust mites have been negative, leaving school officials puzzled about the source of the headaches, coughing, nasal congestion and throat irritation some students have experienced.

"Unfortunately, we have no substantive findings at this point in time," said Vernon F. Smith Jr., director of support services for the school system. "We have shared with parents all the results of testing done to this date."

About 50 parents attended a three-hour meeting at the school yesterday to learn about the test results and any further action school officials might take to correct the situation.

"We're concerned," said Dianne Chillemi, who has two children who attend the school. "We're concerned about the long-term effects on our children. We're concerned symptoms might get worse."

Other parents declined to comment.

School officials conducted a survey among first- and second-grade students this month to determine who was getting sick and what the symptoms were. About one-third of the respondents had symptoms such as coughing and headaches, the survey showed.

Mr. Smith said the Maryland Department of the Environment, which will be conducting air tests next week, is pressing school officials to have all of the surveys returned. Mr. Smith said 113 of the 280 surveys had been returned to school officials.

Parents have asked school officials to close the school until the source of the problem is determined. Mr. Smith said that recommendation will be discussed with county school Superintendent R. Edward Shilling and other administrators.

Parents also asked school officials to leave several portable buildings -- scheduled to be moved to other schools this summer -- at Mount Airy. Parents noted that some first-graders reported their symptoms eased after they were moved to a portable building. Mr. Smith said that suggestion also would be discussed.

Meanwhile, school officials are awaiting the results of mold and bacteria tests. Mount Airy town officials are expected to take water samples for testing this week, Mr. Smith said.

"We're attempting to discover any problems," Mr. Smith said. "We cannot confirm there is a problem. We have said the information shared by parents could lead one to believe there is a problem. That is why we're pursuing testing to identify any contaminants."

Mr. Smith told parents that radon tests showed higher-than-acceptable levels in the faculty room. Once a ventilation fan was repaired, levels returned to acceptability, he said.

He said monitoring of classrooms will continue and that repairs, such as capping off old water and sewer pipes left above the ceiling since a 1987 renovation, will be made.

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