By Travis Smola
Concerns about air quality at Sunset Lake Elementary have prompted air quality testing at the Vicksburg school. The result? Recommendations for improvement but no findings of contaminants or toxic substances.
The testing was prompted by the illness of a teacher in a pre-kindergarten classroom.
Vicksburg Superintendent Keevin O’Neill and Assistant Superintendent Steve Goss recently addressed the issue.
“Vicksburg Community Schools is committed to the safety, security and health of all our students and staff,” O’Neill said at a press conference. “That is our priority and will always be our top priority.”
The ill teacher returned to work briefly before her doctor sent her home for more recovery. She’s currently awaiting clearance to return to work. Due to confidentiality reasons, O’Neill and Goss wouldn’t identify her or comment on the specifics of her illness, noting only that she exhibited a wide range of symptoms.
The district conducted air quality testing on January 31. While the district was waiting for results, rumors about Sunset Lake began circulating on social media.
Ann Arbor-based Nova Environmental performed the air quality testing. Nova President Kary Amin said he focused his initial investigation on testing for carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, hydrogen sulfide, hydrocarbons, nitrogen dioxide and chlorine. The tests did not detect a harmful level of contamination. He said he also did a visual inspection for signs of mold.
“I didn’t see any discoloration or water infestation or moisture infestation that may have caused mold,” Amin said.
He also conducted TO-15 testing, which measures for volatile organic compounds. While the test did show approximately 54 compounds detected, Amin doesn’t believe they were related to the teacher’s illness. “They were at very low amounts,” Amin said. “Each one was thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of times lower than the permissible exposure limits established by OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration).”
Amin made recommendations for improving air quality. He noted air ventilation in the room was likely not as efficient as it could be due to older equipment. Amin said items were stacked on the vent when he first inspected the room, which likely affected air circulation.
He also recommended the district clean and maintain the ventilation units and change the air filters. Other Nova recommendations included more frequent cleaning of the carpets in the room and removing paints from storage under the sink in the room that were causing an odor.
The room in question is still being used. O’Neill said he was unaware of anyone else in that room getting sick. But Goss did say it isn’t definitive that the teacher’s illness did not originate at the school. “The initial concerns appear to be related to air quality, so we investigated that,” Goss said.
Amin said in his experience, cases where an environmental hazard is affecting health are often much more obvious. He said multiple people will often exhibit symptoms such as dizziness and vomiting. The district is currently inspecting attendance records, but its first look at the data hasn’t revealed anything abnormal in student attendance.
But the district wants to address community concerns; O’Neill also announced it will be forming an environmental safety committee comprised of local health care professionals, environmental safety experts, teachers, parents and community members to study the district’s current practices and make suggestions for any changes to the school board. O’Neill said they hope to have this committee formed before the end of April.
The district will also be adding an environmental safety section to its website for the public to get information and reach out to the district with their concerns. They will also perform additional tests to look at additional parts of the building for problems.
“We’ve tested and we’re going to continue to test,” O’Neill said. “We’re going to rule out anything that could cause any type of illnesses if they exist in the building.”