Health hazard evaluation report: HETA-2005-0033-2984 and HETA-2005-0234-2984, Liberty Central School District, Liberty, New York.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) received Health Hazard Evaluation requests for the Elementary, Middle, and High Schools in Liberty, New York. The request from the Liberty Faculty Association for the Elementary School listed teacher health concerns including allergy, sinus problems, asthma, respiratory problems, rashes, numbness, and headaches. The exposure concern was "poor air quality" with mold and paint odors listed as specific concerns. The request for the Middle and High Schools was submitted by the Superintendent of Liberty Central School District upon learning about the Elementary School request. Health concerns listed for the Middle and High Schools were respiratory or allergic reactions to possible mold exposure. The exposure concerns were mold and indoor moisture. We conducted walkthroughs of each school using our semi-quantitative assessment sheet, a worksheet for a standardized observational assessment of occupied rooms. We modified our existing worksheet to allow us to record values from moisture meter measurements of building components and real-time measurements of room temperature, relative humidity, and carbon dioxide concentration. The semiquantitative assessment approach allowed us to document areas of water damage, humidity, or other problems in each school as a means to provide a focus for recommendations made to the school administration. We also compared our observational findings to the equipment measurements and found that at least for some rooms, higher observational scores did relate to elevated temperature or relative humidity. Water damage and possible mold was found in each school, although the Middle School had more visible water damage than the Elementary or High Schools. Some window caulking had failed in the Middle and High Schools, allowing water to enter the classrooms through the window. There was an on-going water infiltration problem in the Middle School library and some classrooms, as evidenced by the containers on the windowsills used to capture rainwater. We found two areas of visible mold in the Middle School: on a mural in the lobby and in a stairwell near exit 6 (next to the cafeteria). We recommended removal of the mural and cleaning of the stairwell using the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene guidance for mold remediation. The Elementary School has no mechanical ventilation in the main portions of the building. The windows are the only means of ventilation. The modular units had unit ventilators. Teachers report that they open windows during the winter due to the heat and odors in the classrooms. Teachers also report that diesel exhaust enters the classrooms on the side of the building where buses load and unload the students. Some water stains and possible mold were found in the third floor hallway. Steam pipe leaks were reported to have occurred in several areas of the building. The modular units, especially the corridor, had odors while we were there. The corridor outside the restrooms smelled of urine. Frozen pipes under the modular units have burst according to teachers, leading to water incursion in the building. The High School had stained ceiling tiles in many classrooms, condensation on many of the curtain wall windows, and some leaky windows. Some of the Plexiglas storm windows were failing as the plastic holding the Plexiglas in place was becoming brittle and breaking on some windows. At least one room had Plexiglas that was hanging from the window. The library had rusty, and possibly moldy, window blinds. The rust appeared to be caused by the blinds sitting in water or staying wet for long periods. We noticed other blinds in various rooms with rust and possible mold, although not to the extent of the library's blinds. During our walkthroughs, we spoke to teachers in the Elementary and Middle schools who reported migraines, watery eyes, sore throats, and cough that they attributed to being in their school. Damp buildings have been associated with risk of nose and throat symptoms, cough, wheeze, asthma symptoms in sensitized persons, and hypersensitivity pneumonitis for building occupants. Some evidence suggests that exposures in damp indoor environments are associated with shortness of breath and development of asthma. We documented dampness in all schools of the Liberty Central School District with the Middle School having both water leaks and visible mold. The finding of dampness in the school buildings calls for action by the school administration to correct the water incursion and to remediate the impacted building materials or furnishings. Employees experiencing health symptoms that they feel are related to the building should seek the care of a physician and should report their concerns to the school administration. Implementing the EPA program, "Tools for Schools", is recommended as a means to protect and maintain indoor environmental quality. Teachers in Liberty Central School District reported health conditions that they attributed to the school. NIOSH conducted a walkthrough of the three schools in the Liberty Central School District. We found evidence of water leaks and dampness in all schools with the Middle School having both active leaks and visible mold. The finding of dampness in the Liberty Schools calls for action by the school administration. Employees with health concerns related to the building should seek the care of a physician and should report their concerns to the school administration.