Pa. parents air concerns over middle school dust

April 21, 2005|by BONNIE H. BRECHBILL

MERCERSBURG, PA. - Parents of James Buchanan Middle School students voiced their concerns Wednesday evening about illnesses that several students have experienced this school year to Tuscarora School District Superintendent Thomas Stapleford.

The parents said dust and poor air quality in the school building from an ongoing renovation project have caused breathing problems, rashes and other health concerns.

Many of the parents had complained about the dust problem at a recent Tuscarora School Board meeting.

Joe Nesbitt, who lives across from the middle school and has two children enrolled there, told Stapleford, "I put them in your care. This is unacceptable. It's a small percentage of the kids, you say; if there's one kid sick because of the air quality, it should be your top priority."


Tracy Thomas of Mercersburg asked why asbestos needs to be removed while her child is in the school.

"What about second shift? What about Saturdays?" she asked.

Stapleford responded that he has been told that the contractor will not do the work at any other time.

"If it's possible to get it changed, we'll get it changed," he said.

He added that there have been 22 air testings in the building, and that he is "deeply troubled" by any child who is struggling.

"We're dealing with a murky area," Stapleford said. "The standards selected by (environmental consultants) Analytical Labs were arbitrary."

Suggestions from the group to get the students out of the building were using split sessions at the high school or using a nearby Methodist church for classes.

One parent who refused to give her name said her daughter looked like "death warmed over" from breathing problems due to the dust, and said that it was too late for "could have, would have, should have. There was nothing (done). It was frustrating for a lot of parents."

The woman said she pulled her daughter from the school after Easter, and that the child's health improved dramatically.

Stapleford said the frustration was shared by everyone.

"The experts say, 'Do this. Do that. Try this.' We did," he said. "If the environmental consultants had said to us on Labor Day, 'Get HEPA filters. Spend $10,000 on carpet,' I'm not promising we would have jumped on it. But we would have appreciated having the option."

Jamie Kunis of St. Thomas, Pa., said that the issue is an emotional one.

"It's our kids. Why can't (the work) be done in the summer? I'm not angry at you," she told Stapleford, "I'm angry at the whole situation."

Kunis said her two children have experienced rashes, headaches and asthma this year from the dust.

She said to tell the construction people, "Get the white suits off. If my kids have to breathe it, they have to breathe it."

Several parents complained that the results of air quality testing were not readily available to them, and that in some cases this delayed diagnosis of their children's health problems.

Stapleford said that ultimately the whole issue is his responsibility, and that health-related information should be released "right away."

Problems caused by the dust appear to be cumulative he said, citing attendance figures for recent months. Absenteeism was normal in November, higher in January, and March "was a rough month," he said. "We need to make alternative arrangements for some kids."

The $13.5 million addition and renovation project at the 50-plus-year-old school building began in June.

Air quality information can be found at: Copies of air quality results are also available at the school district office, middle school office and at the Fendrick Library, 20 N. Main St., Mercersburg.

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