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Over the last several weeks, work has been done at Cheshire High School to improve air quality in a certain sector of the building, after several teachers complained of respiratory problems last month.
The problems began in November after numerous educators complained to the school nurse about sinus conditions and respiratory illnesses from which they were suffering. While none of the conditions were serious in nature, the number of those complaining prompted the nurse’s office to inform administrators during a Indoor Air Quality Committee meeting. CHS Principal Kevin Ryan, who serves on the committee, directed maintenance staff to investigate possible problems that could be causing the issue.
“Internally, we started doing some investigating,” explained Ryan. “(Maintenance) was looking for things like mold or standing water, anything that might contribute to those kinds of symptoms. After the investigation, we were confident there wasn't a problem.”
However, Ryan states that the complaints continued and several teachers, who had never experienced sinus problems previously, reported more serious symptoms.
That is when administrators decided to employee the services of an outside firm, ORCS, to investigate the problem.
According to Ryan, the problems were localized in the northend of the school, where utility tunnels travel underneath classrooms. An inspection by ORCS of those tunnels revealed that there was standing water in the area of steam pipes.
“The combo of water and steam doesn't make for the best of conditions,” stated Ryan.
Because there was not a ventilation system in place in the tunnels, when the air pressure would rise, it would force it up and into the classrooms.
To deal with the problem, any potential openings that could allow unclean air to rise from the tunnels into classrooms were sealed and, last weekend, a ventilation system was installed in the north end, one Ryan described as being “pretty expansive.”
Then, on Tuesday of this week, fans were installed to force the air out of the tunnels.
The hope is that, by the time teachers and students return to school following winter recess, the stale air in the tunnels will have been purged.
“Already, we have seen some of the symptoms improve,” said Ryan. “It stands to reason that, the more the tunnels get the air out, the better the air quality will be.”
When complaints were raised about the possible affect of air quality on health in November, Ryan said the focus was placed on teachers because, while students go from classroom to classroom, and different parts of the school, throughout the day, teachers usually spend most of their time in one place.
Also, Ryan stated that absentee numbers from 2009 were reviewed to see if numbers spiked at the same time this year, which may have indicated that students were also suffering the affects of the air quality.
However, the data indicated there was little difference in the numbers, indicating that there had been no uptick that could be attributed to the current problem.
With cold and flu season in full swing, Ryan admitted that catching the problem could have been difficult as, earlier on, many thought their symptoms were simply the result of a virus.
“We thought that might have been the case, until it persisted,” said Ryan.
While the work done over the last few weeks may turn out to offer a long-term solution, Ryan stated that more work might have to be done.
If air quality issues persist, Ryan explained that a more extensive ventilation system might have to be installed.