Anne Arundel County Public Schools (AACPS) released the findings from the indoor air quality study at Edgewater Elementary Friday afternoon, telling parents the school’s “environmental conditions do not present a general health hazard.”
The 31-page report, conducted by Building Dynamics and its president Ed Light, said Edgewater Elementary’s health concerns centered primarily on maintenance issues and equipment upgrades. Light said the school has problems with the structure of the building and its HVAC system, but said much of it has to do with the age of the building.
The report didn't have loads of new information or details, but it showed a lack of effort by the public school system, Edgewater Elementary PTA president Jenny Corkill said.
"We knew there were problems but we couldn't tell you what they problems were. We were told time and time again that our school is OK and clearly it's not," Corkill said. "It just comes back to that trust, how do we know [AACPS] is going to properly maintain our school going forward."
Many parents expressed concern that their children were in serious danger from the school’s environment, but Light’s report said the school’s condition only worsened pre-existing medical conditions.
“Direct exposure to mold growth and dampness may aggravate asthma in sensitive individuals. These same symptoms can also be caused by a variety of other medical factors,” according to the report. “Other symptoms reported by occupants are unlikely to have been caused by the building environment and may be coincidental with time spent at Edgewater Elementary.”
Much of the report discussed information shared by Light back in January when he explained his preliminary findings to a room full of concerned parents and teachers.
Light said in the report that mold growth and dampness were found in the school, but only in small amounts and not in any size unusual for a building of its kind.
“Mold growth was localized, similar in extent to that found in most buildings. Most mold growth at [Edgewater Elementary] is in the unoccupied crawlspace,” according to the report.
The school's “erratic” temperatures were another concern investigated by Building Dynamics. Light said in the report that malfunctioning equipment was the major cause of uncomfortably high temperatures at the school and said some poorly-operating equipment went unreported.
“Ongoing control of dampness and improvement of comfort will require proactive maintenance, including periodic monitoring of building conditions,” according to the report.
However, Light said that even with proper maintenance, the school’s air-conditioning system may not be able to prevent uncomfortable temperatures due to “limited air conditions.”
The report indicated that of the mold growth found at Edgewater Elementary, much of it has been remediated. Concerns about stuffy air and strange smells can be easily addressed by sealing holes through the floor, according to the report.
“Leaks from steam pipes and roof drains into the crawlspace have been the primary problem,” according to the report. “These have now been repaired and piping is being monitored so that any new leaks can be quickly resolved before they affect the building environment.”
The sheer amount of problems with the school are what bothers Corkill the most, she said.
"Here we are today seeing multiple problems. My main concern is how did we get here today? How does that happen when our school is supposed to be maintained properly?" Corkill said.
Recommendations for the school
A significant section of the report was filled with recommendations made by Light, both to AACPS maintenance staff and Edgewater Elementary faculty.
For AACPS maintenance staff, Light recommended “suggested set-points for thermostats” throughout the school to help track its temperature, as well as checking HVAC equipment at the start of every hot and cold season.
For Edgewater Elementary’s faculty and staff, Light suggested always using ceiling fans when a room is occupied, adjusting shades to prevent overheating and other classroom-based practices.
Light recommended that the county consider adding an air-conditioning unit exclusively for the cafeteria and “replace most existing equipment” for the school’s heating and cooling.
Daily checks at the school’s crawlspace and repairing structural damages were Light’s key solutions for preventing future mold growth. He did, however, identify specific rooms that were vulnerable for future problems, including several classrooms and a portable.
“There is only a small amount of growth in each of the locations, (a few square inches), and AACPS is eliminating the sources of moisture.”
His final recommendation was to stop school buses from idling near the building, if odors are detected inside the building.
Building Dynamics’ full independent indoor air quality study of Edgewater Elementary can be found at the AACPS website.