Lawrence School District officials assured parents Monday night that the high school does not currently pose a health risk to students and teachers, but could not provide a definitive answer as to what could develop there in the future.
When probed about students with sensitivities like allergies or asthma getting sick from an odor caused by flooding, Superintendent Gary Schall said, “If any teachers or students are uncomfortable, the class locations can be moved. These are being handled on a case-by-case basis.”
Schall said that the odor is already better compared to last week and it is possible that some were reacting to the bleach and other cleaning sanitizers.
“The odor is in no way harmful, but it may be uncomfortable and cause a few headaches,” he said. “Each day it has gotten better and by Monday the air quality should be such that no one should be reacting”
LHS senior Nicole Eras said at the meeting that she has had a cough since school started up again, but was unsure if it was related to the damage to the school.
“There have been some weird smells around this school and I am concerned for our health,” she said.
Chris Milano, director of facilities for District 15, reiterated that the crawl space under the school and the boiler room of the LHS had water damage, but the auditorium took the biggest hit. At the moment, the school has one functioning boiler and has ordered parts for the other.
Over this past weekend when a restoration crew went in to remove the damaged furniture under the building, it discovered a steam leak.
“To our knowledge, the steam leak was not present before the storm," he said. "We had a plumber come by immediately and they spent 12-13 hours between Saturday and Sunday making these repairs.”
The district brought in J.C. Broderick Associates as the restoration company to handle the damage. Brendan Broderick, president of the company, is an environmental assessment expert who is also currently working with the Long Beach, Oceanside, Island Park and East Rockaway school districts. Broderick himself is a Long Beach resident who sustained damage to his own home.
Broderick said that his company follows the standards and protocols put out by FEMA, CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention), EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), and OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration).
“We do not know exactly where this water source came from or what is in it,” Broderick told concerned teachers and parents. He added that the water is categorized from category one, which is considered clean water to the other side of the spectrum, category three, which is considered dirty water.
“There could be 100,000 different pathogens in the water; or it could be nothing," he said. "We are addressing it as if it is the worse case scenario of what it could possibly be. I am not saying the water is going to contain feces, or certain pathogens, toxins, or chemicals. I am not saying that it did, but what I cannot say is that it did not."
The biggest concern parents raised was the possibility of mold and the effects it could have on their children. Portions of the building have been isolated and presently, there is no mold growth in LHS, officials said.
Unknown to most, the best way to test for mold growth is not by testing the air, but by visually observing the particular area. There is actually no federal protocol to test the air for mold.
Mold needs three things to grow: the right temperature (high), the right moisture (humid) and a nutrient source. Since it is November, the temperature and moisture are not big issues in comparison to the warmer summer months.
Broderick stated that if it would make parents more comfortable, with the district’s cooperation, he could come up sampling program to check the air for mold.
“We are going to continually monitor the environment and make sure the critical barrier of isolation between the crawl space and upstairs stays in place,” he said, adding that if they lost control of isolating the spaces, he has no problem closing the school.