Saturday, March 29, 2008

Could air quality problem in high school cause seizures and other health problems?

Kathy Cunningham did not want to take a chance with her son JJ's health. She asked Tempe Union High School District officials to transfer the special-needs student to another school where she would not have to worry whether the air he was breathing might harm him, she said.Cunningham said she was shocked to hear the extent of Corona del Sol's air-quality problems at a district-held forum late last month.

Officials from Health Effects Group, an environmental-consulting firm that tested air quality at the school in 2006, told parents that elevated carbon dioxide levels were not dangerous but could cause their children to be fatigued or lethargic. The district said a 30-year-old ventilation system and an airtight school built to incorporate solar technology were to blame for the lack of airflow and air-quality problems.

The district has worked to upgrade the system but the state School Facilities Board denied its request for emergency funding to complete repairs, which the district estimates would cost $11 million. The district is working on several funding options, including asking voters to approve a bond election in November. But Cunningham listened to one person after another stand to complain about cancer, tumors, allergies, migraines and other health problems that had plagued their bodies since coming to the school.

She contacted the district after the forum and had JJ transferred to another school last week. JJ, 19, began having grand mal seizures after he started attending the school four years ago, she said. JJ's neurologist, Cunningham said, told her she thought the seizures were environmentally related because his brain did not show damage that could cause seizures."We've lived in the same house for years . . . it can't be from here," she said.

Cunningham said she has no proof the school has affected her son's health, but she is upset that the district knew about health complaints for years and knew about the air-quality for more than a year, yet did not notify her sooner. Now parents of other special-needs students at Corona are concerned about how the air-quality might affect their children. Parents of other special-needs students have scheduled an appointment with Corona High School Principal Susan Jilek-Edwards.

Jim Adams said he and his wife Marie would attend the 2:30 p.m. Thursday meeting on behalf of their 16-year-old daughter Kim, who has autism.Adams' daughter, a freshman, began having headaches and migraines after attending Corona, he said.Adams said parents are concerned because the special-needs classroom is located next to the automotive shop and a shop where welding is done.Linda Littell, a district spokeswoman, said the classroom is located next to the auto shop but she did not know if welding was taking place nearby.

She said the principal knew of only one parent attending the meeting Thursday."We're meeting with that parent as we would any parent to address concerns," Littell said.Adams said teachers and parents have smelled engine-exhaust fumes and fumes from chemicals used in the shops. Parents, he said, want the children moved from the classroom until the ventilation system is fixed or the the school stops allowing welding and engines running during school hours. They also want chemicals and pesticides banned in the rooms.


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