Officials address high carbon dioxide levels at Middlesex Boro middle school
More than a hundred concerned parents attended a special three hour information meeting Monday evening following reports of high carbon dioxide levels sickening students at the Von E. Mauger Middle school in Middlesex Borough.
Indoor air expert Richard Lynch, president of the Environmental Safety Management Corporation, told those assembled an initial review found while higher than recommended levels of carbon dioxide had been found in several classrooms, it was simply an indicator of unhealthy air, but not the cause of the problem.
He explained during an in-depth presentation that air quality problems inside the middle school were being caused by an inadequate amount of fresh air from outside circulating in classrooms, which was allowing a buildup of microbiological contamination.
This was happening, he said, because the unit ventilators in the building are old, and when different components break down it’s difficult to find replacement parts, so repairs are frequently delayed.
Another issue, said Lynch, was teachers would sometimes turn off the ventilation units in their classrooms because they were noisy, allowing inside air pollutants to build up.
He repeatedly stressed carbon dioxide levels above a thousand parts-per-million were an indicator of indoor air pollution, but the higher levels of the gas itself was not causing students to get headaches and become sleepy.
He recommended improved maintenance and frequently opening windows to ensure an ample supply of fresh air was circulating.
When parents complained they had tried repeatedly to get answers to their questions about safety and sickness, School Superintendent Linda Madison agreed to speak, and then presented a detailed review of air quality problems caused by faulty equipment dating back several years.
When she was asked by parents why they had never been told about this and the higher than normal levels of carbon dioxide that were found, she said “carbon dioxide was never a health hazard, so we don’t bring parents in when we have a roof leak, we don’t tell parents when we’re replacing a floor in a classroom.”
She insisted there was no reason to share this information because the higher levels did not present a health hazard.
“They’re still within the normal, somewhat limits, why would I do that? I wouldn’t, I’m not going to cause a public alarm over that,” said Madison.
But many parents didn’t buy it.
Erica Williams of Middlesex, whose 10-year-old son attends the Von E. Mauger school said parents should have been kept in the loop.
“It’s lack of transparency, lack of communication. It gives the impression that they’re hiding something,” she said. “We don’t trust them, we don’t trust that our children are in good hands because we’re not getting the collaboration that you should get with a parent and your school system.”
Another mom, Dorothy Fresco of Middlesex, complained “there is no communication, it’s lack of communication, we as parents should not find out on a Facebook post that there’s an air quality issue.”
She pointed out school officials knew in 2016 there was an air quality problem inside the building, “so the lack of trust now has gone down the tubes because you just can’t believe what they’re saying.”
Madison stressed “it’s not a health issue, it’s an air exchange problem and we’ve been working on these repairs non-stop.”
She also pointed out “we do what we can within a 2 percent tax levy cap, so it’s like do we replace a boiler, or replace 10 unit ventilators?”
“I haven’t told them because I never felt their child was in danger, I would never put a child in danger.”
She added “it’s hurtful people would think I would intentionally put their child at risk.”
Before the meeting ended, Lynch indicated a report with recommendations would be forthcoming, and Madison agreed she would keep parents updated on efforts to fix faulty ventilation units and give results of additional air quality tests that are performed.
You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com