The next phase of an evaluation of environmental conditions at two Laurel Bay schools will include further monitoring of indoor air quality, radon testing and mold sampling, as well as more thorough review of the illnesses reported by staff members.
About two dozen teachers and other staff at Galer Elementary and Bolden Elementary/Middle schools met Wednesday to review results of the first phase of the evaluation, released this week by the Department of Defense schools division.
No asbestos was detected in air samples, and the firm conducting the tests concluded drinking water meets federal and state standards.
Staff members asked about the next round of testing, and some said they are concerned it will be done during the summer. A different environment exists during breaks, when there is little movement from students and teachers and the janitorial staff changes its cleaning routine, they said.
That shouldn't be a problem, said Marc Gutterman, a representative of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, who is working with the schools division to evaluate the facilities.
The firm hired to conduct the testing, RS&H, isn't looking for chemical substances that are in the school temporarily or produced by normal school supplies, such as cleaners or dry-erase markers. It's searching for something that could pose a chronic problem, he said.
"We'd prefer not to have those background issues present because all they really do is cloud up ... what we're looking for," Gutterman said.
Jeff Prewitt, a representative of RS&H, assured teachers the cleaning products used in the school would be reviewed to be sure they are safe.
Paula Guerry, a nurse at Galer Elementary, said after the meeting she is pleased the school has been open about communicating the test results.
"I think they are really trying to look for things," she said.
Staff members at Galer and Bolden schools approached their union in February about health concerns. Teachers identified ailments and symptoms and questioned whether school conditions caused their illnesses.
Prewitt said some of the illnesses reported, such as cancer, could be the result of long-term exposure to chemicals. Other illnesses, such as allergy symptoms, could be from short-term exposure.
Gutterman said it is not clear whether the frequency of illnesses reported by employees is above normal for the staff's demographics. The Corps of Engineers will work this summer with the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control on an epidemiology study to find out, but he wasn't sure when the work would be completed.
The testing is estimated to cost about $350,000 for the first and second phases, Gutterman said.
Gutterman said determining whether the frequency of illness is abnormal is often conducted before environmental testing begins. But he said the Defense Department's schools division wanted to address teachers' concerns quickly to ensure they are comfortable in their work environment.
"When kids are involved, we take it very seriously," he said.
Results of the first phase of testing at two Laurel Bay schools concluded:
• Drinking water meets federal and state standards.
• Low concentrations of chemicals detected in groundwater do not indicate a potential source for vapor intrusion into the buildings.
• Samples analyzed for asbestos do not indicate a problem with indoor air quality.