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Danger in the air

Is there danger in the air at the North Intermediate School in Wilmington? Apparently carbon

dioxide levels have been found to be above acceptable levels in some class rooms. According to a report dated Dec. 9, 1996, by ATC Associations, an independent consulting firm hired by the Town of Wilmington to conduct Indoor Air Quality and Microbiological testing at the school. "All indoor air quality parameters were within normal guideline ranges with the exception of consistently elevated levels of carbon dioxide and low relative humidity levels throughout the school," said the report.

High levels of carbon dioxide indoors can be a sign of poor ventilation in a building. Carbon dioxide is an odorless gas which can cause discomfort at lower levels and act as a mild narcotic at higher concentrations. According to the Dec. 9 report, "If carbon dioxide levels exceed 800-1000 parts per million(ppm), the ventilation system is not effectively working."

At the Wilmington School Committee meeting on Feb. 12, school Superintendent Dr. Geraldine A. O'Donnell stated that there was a complaint of a musty odor in one of the class rooms after heavy rains on Nov. 6. There were also complaints of nausea and headaches from numerous students. The room was inspected by Roger Lessard, Public Building Superintendent. Mr. Lessard found the odor was being caused by Science chemicals stored there and mildew on a window ledge in the room.

School principal Doug Anderson checked with the school nurse for the attendance rate between Oct. 22 and the first week in November and found nothing out of the ordinary. However, being concerned about the safety of the students and staff, Mr. Anderson requested Lessard hire an outside consultant to evaluate the school's air quality.

The Town of Wilmington then contracted with ATC Associations of Woburn, Environmental, Geoteccnical, and Materials Professionals. ATC conducted a test at the school Nov. 21 and sampled 19 locations. 11 of the 19 locations tested had a carbon dioxide level of over 800 ppm. The average carbon dioxide level was 900ppm showing the results of inadequate ventilation.

ATC explained numerous ways to improve the school's ventilation system. These included: trimming the shrubs close to vents; opening windows to allow air into the building; and making sure all vents are unobstructed.

During late November, Anderson noticed a considerably large drop in student attendance. The student absentee rate shifted from 5% to 20%. Anderson spoke with the school Nurse Rita McCabe and requested that the Massachusettes Department of Health(DPH) be contacted. The DPH and the Wilmington Board of Health inspected the school on Jan. 30 and conducted air quality tests. The results of the test are expected at the end of February.

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