Schools being prepared for possible APG crisis


Rooms in four Edgewood-area schools would be sealed and filtered air pumped in if a chemical emergency occurred at the nearby Edgewood area of Aberdeen Proving Ground, according to Harford County emergency and school officials.

The rooms, designated safe areas that would hold all students, teachers, administrators and other workers, are being outfitted with weather stripping and air filters that would prevent contaminated air from leaking in, according to a county emergency official.

Workers were sealing windows and installing weather stripping last week and will continue the work at night after classes begin today in the Harford public schools.

Deerfield Elementary School, Edgewood Elementary School, Edgewood Middle School and Edgewood High School are the schools closest to a former chemical weapons testing and training area at the proving ground.

The Army plans to remove unexploded chemical weapons discarded in the area, known as the Nike site, next year. Also, an estimated 1,500 tons of mustard agent is stored at the Edgewood area of the proving ground.

In case of an emergency, the air filters and sealable windows and doors would protect students and adults in the safe areas for up to four hours, said Douglas Richmond, emergency planner for Harford County. That is enough time for a chemical plume to pass over or for chemicals in the air to dissipate, he said.

The plan raised some concerns at Deerfield Elementary School last week, when workers began to seal windows in classrooms. Deerfield is the only one of the four schools without central air conditioning.

Sealing the windows now, months before the system is to be tested, seemed "premature," said Deerfield Principal Rachael R. Reid. But ventilators in the rooms should be adequate, she said.

The windows are being screwed shut and sealed with caulk, and the handles are being removed, school system spokesman Donald R. Morrison said. Each of the sealed rooms at Deerfield has a door to the outside that will not be permanently closed.

Twelve rooms have been designated as safe areas in Deerfield, which had almost 600 students last school year. Two of the rooms, a computer lab and a special education classroom, have window-unit air conditioners. The remaining 10 classrooms rely on open windows and doors, ceiling fans and ventilators that circulate fresh air without cooling it to keep the rooms bearable in hot weather.

The school's gymnasium also will be modified eventually with seals and air filters, Dr. Reid said.

The cost of outfitting the four schools, $880,000, is being paid through the federally funded Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program.

"If there is an emergency, a chemical emission either from Aberdeen Proving Ground or from the transportation corridor . . . the schools would be directly notified, and the students, just like in a fire drill, would be immediately moved to those areas of the school," Mr. Richmond said.

By a process called over-pressurization, the air filters would pump purified air into the rooms, forcing out air through any cracks and blocking chemical agents from seeping in. No air could enter the rooms except through the filters, he said.

Deerfield parents who have questions about the measures can attend an informational meeting at the school with Mr. Richmond Sept. 20. Principals at the other schools say they will inform students and parents about the work through newsletters and school announcements.

At Edgewood High, the auditorium and gymnasium will be sealed. Plans for Edgewood Middle and Edgewood Elementary schools were not available. All three are air-conditioned.

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