"Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms--to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way...
For what then matters is to bear witness to the uniquely human potential at its best, which is to transform a personal tragedy into a triumph, to turn one's predicament into a human achievement." (Vicktor Frankl, Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist as well as a Holocaust survivor)
Welcome! SMH is a nonprofit that promotes healthier school buildings! Damp schools? Toxic mold? ...More...
Read about toxic mold in an unhealthy high school sports fieldhouse
Even a brand new school, such as South Shore Elementary, now-closed in Seattle Public Schools (SPS), recent recipient of an EPA IAQ Tools for Schools National Leadership Award, can cause health problems. And it doesn't have to be from mold.
Seattle Public Schools, winner of a 2009 EPA award for excellence in utilizing the EPA Tools for Schools Program (for indoor air quality) , like a number of other EPA winners, actually has a poor record of protecting its students from environmental exposures and informing parents. Now South Shore Elementary has closed, after subjecting students to terrible symptoms for eight long months. We know that Sick Building Syndrome, if present here, can become chronic, with even short exposures to chemicals, for some occupants. We hope that none of these students have sustained potential, permanent injuries such as asthma or multiple chemical sensitivities. If poor building practices were used, we think SPS should identify and hold those responsible and not shift the burden to the taxpayers. We call for an independent, citizen's investigation of the causes of this environmental exposure. We are concerned that anyone involved in investigations is not compromised by being paid by the school district nor has ties to occupational health / risk management.
It is hard to imagine children having to stay in a school like this for so long - even a few minutes might be too much time in a sick building. It is unknown whether moisture is causing these problems - apparently fumes from the rug and mastic are being looked at. Our hearts go out to these families who are suffering with sick children, who now have not even a place to attend school, this week, causing more hardship.
We ask: 1. Who, exactly, has been conducting this investigation? 2. Why is it taking SO LONG to determine a problem that should take a far shorter time? 3. Why were the students left to suffer in this school? 4. Why haven't any facts, undoubtedly determined since January 2010, been made public?
We encourage parents and the media to request, under the Freedom of Information Act, all information related to the IAQ investigation of South Shore Elementary: including contracts related to individuals or companies hired to investigate, all entities involved in the investigations, money paid, when they began, all data and reports, to date. If the reports are delayed, then the data must be made public. No more stalling. The public has a right to know.
We recommend that parents and teachers read ourGetting Help: Parents and Teachers sections. We are concerned that individuals injured in this building may be evaluated by physicians or groups representing the legal (liability) interests of the school district, a conflict of interest. We are well aware that this is how school districts avoid liability in cases of environmental injury. Parents may wish to organize and start a website informing the public and media about any facts learned. Examples of parent groups and websites may be found on our Getting Help: Parents section.
For recommended physicians who specialize in Environmental Medicine, in the Seattle, WA area, click here.
Nathan Hale High School
Note: The photo taken of moldy ceiling tiles used for our Welcome page is from Seattle Public Schools' Nathan Hale High School. This photo and others that may be viewed below, were taken by a parent who was not listened to by SPS when she complained about toxic black mold and profoundly unhealthy, damp conditions at Nathan Hale. Nathan Hale is one of the leakiest, moldiest schools in the United States, with the worst maintenance practices we have ever seen. The story of Nathan Hale's mold and how SPS handled it is found in our Real Testimonies section. It does not give us confidence in Seattle Public Schools nor any of their internal investigations.
EPA Awarded Seattle for IAQ Efforts
Apparently, US EPA did not know about SPS' conduct with the problems at Nathan Hale High School, when, in July, 2009, they gave Seattle Public Schools an award for excellence in IAQ. Insight into Excellence: Seattle Public Schools. The handling of Nathan Hale and South Shore proves that claiming to follow EPA's Tools for Schools Program and even winning their awards (often given to school districts with many parent and teacher IAQ complaints) does not add up to school health or competence in this area. This is a continuing, major problem for EPA and our nation's families and school workers. Millions are being sickened throughout the USA, in our schools, with no recourse for parents or school staff. Government officials take no effective actions. This must be corrected if we want to be a healthier nation. It is no wonder we are the least healthy of all developed nations.
Sick Building Symptoms
For more information related to illnesses contracted due to poor indoor air quality (IAQ) click Sick Building Symptoms.(SMH)
photos of Nathan Hale High School, Seattle Public Schools, WA
'Sick Building Syndrome?': New Elementary School in Seattle Shut Down; Making Kids Sick (Video) KING 5 News
April 18, 2010 - Students and teachers have become ill inside a beautiful new school building that just opened last September - South Shore, an elementary school serving students PreK-8 - and officials don't know why yet.
The problem was so widespread that teachers threatened to hold their classes outside.
Finally, district officials decided to shut the school down as a precautionary measure while tests are run to try and determine what has caused so many people to suffer from headaches, nausea, sore throats, stinging in their eyes, etc.
"The superintendent decided as a precautionary measure to close the school and move the students," said Patti Spencer, Seattle Public Schools spokeswoman.
Parents and teachers are angry it took the district months to do anything about it.
KING 5 News reported that in recent weeks, more and more people are reportedly experiencing the same symptoms.
According to one girl's mother, doctors have not been able to diagnose 12-year-old Hannah Trybjorn's illness.
"My head hurts, I feel like I'm going to throw up," said Hannah.
"Stinging in their eyes, burning in the backs of their throats, they all had headaches," said her mother, Dawn Trybjorn.
Officials believe the answer may be in the flooring system - concrete, adhesive, and carpeting.
"What we are examining most closely at this time is the flooring system, that includes the concrete, the adhesive and the carpet," said Spencer.
South Shore students will stay home until district officials secure an alternative location to hold classes until the end of the school year. Transportation will be provided.
"We will absolutely provide transportation to that location," said Spencer.
Many parents are supportive of the district's decision. They're just frustrated it took months to respond to the problem.
"I feel much safer that my child is not going to be in here," said Trybjorn.
District officials plan to notify parents of that new location by Monday night. They also plan to send a survey to families to find out how widespread the problems are.
The school website reads:
On Friday April 16 Superintendent Goodloe-Johnson announced that she is closing South Shore School as a precautionary measure while the school district continues to investigate the source of odors at the PreK-8 school. Families will need to make alternative arrangements for their children beginning Monday, April 19 through Friday, April 23. Kids Co. daycare at South Shore will also be closed.
"I made the decision to close South Shore because there are too many unanswered questions about the source of the odor in the building," said Dr. Goodloe-Johnson. "This is a precautionary measure to continue to ensure the safety and welfare of all students and staff."
The district has been conducting numerous air quality and other tests since the odors were first detected at South Shore in late January, but has not yet been able to determine their source.
Seattle Public Schools leaders are also consulting with national and local experts, including public health and pediatric environmental health officials, and will share results of testing with these agencies as they become available.
A plan is being developed to comfortably house students and staff in a temporary location in Southeast Seattle, with the goal of having classes start on Monday, April 25. We expect to serve students at that temporary location through the end of the school year.
The district will provide updates to families and staff as new information is available, and a Web site dedicated to this situation will be created by the end of next week. The Web site will include updates, test results, and other information as needed. Meantime, brief updates are available at www.seattleschools.org - click on "South Shore Update" on the main page.
If families have any additional concerns about symptoms they are experiencing, we recommend they contact their health care provider. Families who need help finding a doctor can call the Community Health Access Program (CHAP)at 206-284-0331 or 1-800-756-5437.
Insight into Excellence: Seattle Public Schools, Leadership Award, 2009
Though Seattle Public Schools only recently applied for (and received) the IAQ TfS National Leadership Award, the district has been a leader in IAQ management in the Northwestern U.S. since 1995 when they proactively implemented the IAQ TfS Program in recognition of the effects of IAQ on student and staff health and performance.
Short on technical resources to evaluate their 100+ school sites, the district reached out to their EPA Region 10 school’s representative to help them develop an approach. EPA Region 10 connected them with the Washington State University Indoor Air Quality Program and the Seattle-King County Public Health Department to help them conduct IAQ walkthroughs and take CO2, CO, and other measurements to help them gauge the health of their buildings. They partnered with the American Lung Association and the Washington and King County Asthma Forums on asthma education, and yet another partnership allowed Seattle Public Schools to implement a comprehensive Integrated Pest Management Program.
Seattle Public Schools has discovered the power of partnerships for accomplishing major milestones in IAQ management program success, and they envision current and future partnerships as being key to their sustainability. Seattle Public Schools is a great example of how sometimes all it takes to get the help you need is to ask!
(SMH Comment: We find it appalling that with all this "help", students were allowed to languish in a sick school for 8 months, immediately following receipt of this award. We suggest retraction of the award.)
SEATTLE - It's a brand-new school, but several Seattle students say their classrooms are making them sick.
Astara Leeder-Chenvert say the smell of wet paint made her sick to her stomach.
"I was feeling sweaty and hot. I thought I was going to throw up," she said.
So the 7th grader texted her mother to come and pick her up. Chandre Chenvert says her daughter has been getting sick for months.
"It’s scary. You don’t feel comfortable sending your kids to school if they will have a long-term problems," she said.
Parents say the problems at South Shore K-8 began last December. Sixth graders began reporting symptoms such as headaches, nausea and rashes. When students returned from spring break last week, parents say the problem got worse. On Tuesday, several parents pulled their kids out of classes because of student complaining of illness.
Alyssa Royse says she has complained to the district since December. Royse is frustrated.
"It’s been going on for months and we have not gotten any answers," she said.
Parent Leslie Selle said she started getting sick when she came to pick up her daughter today.
"I became nauseous. My throat was sore and sticky. I also got a headache," she said.
Selle worries about her 6th grade daughter’s long-term health.
"Close the school . No amount of toxicity is acceptable when it comes to your children’s health," she said.
Seattle Public Schools is aware of the problem.
"We are actively working on this issue," said district spokesperson Patti Spencer.
Spencer says the district has brought in professionals to test and monitor the air quality levels in the classroom.
Spencer says the problem worsens when the HVAC system is not on. The system is now being run 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Spencer says the HVAC system was turned off for spring break week. When students returned this week, Spencer says the students began experiencing headaches and nausea.
Tuesday the District took the drastic step of shutting down the second floor wing where the complaints are coming from.
"We are concerned for our students and staff so we are taking action,” said Spencer.
Several parents say they plan to keep their kids out of school until the problem is located and permanently fixed.
Tracy Armour is one of those parents. "It’s very concerning. It’s upsetting. Not only are our children learning in this building, they are developing," she said.
Wing of new Seattle school is closed over strong odor; kids show symptoms
Originally published April 13, 2010 at 3:58 PM | Page modified April 13, 2010 at 8:40 PM
Seattle Public Schools will close a second-floor wing at its brand-new South Shore School until it can figure out why some students and staff members are experiencing itchy eyes, rashes and other problems.
Seattle Public Schools will close a second-floor wing at its brand-new South Shore School until it can figure out why some students and staff members are experiencing itchy eyes, rashes and other problems.
"We're taking this action ... to ensure that their health, safety and comfort are taken care of," said district spokeswoman Patti Spencer. "We will do whatever we need to do to track down the issue and fix it."
Starting Wednesday, all students in the sixth-grade wing will move to classrooms in other areas of the Southeast Seattle school. South Shore, which moved into a new building in September, has about 500 students from preschool to grade 7, with room for about 800. It will add 8th-graders in the fall.
Spencer said the district believes the problem is "pretty much isolated to the second floor."
But some parents remain concerned because the district hasn't figured out what's wrong, and at least a half dozen have decided to keep their kids at home until they know more.
"Until something concrete comes out, it's hard to send your kid to school," said Cris Fernandez, co-chairman of the school's parent-teacher association.
Fernandez's sixth-grade son was sent home Monday. He had a rash on his face and complained that his eyes itched.
On Tuesday, one student was assessed by medics but wasn't taken to the hospital.
Students and staff first complained about strong odors in January, Spencer said, and the district initially thought it had identified the source — a solvent used in one classroom during winter break in December. The district closed that room, cleaned it, and stripped the carpets from the floor, she said.
But the problem didn't go away and the district has done a number of tests of the air and the carpet. The district also started running the heating and air-conditioning system 24 hours a day, which seemed to help, Spencer said. But a few weeks ago, during spring break, she said the system was somehow switched off the 24-hour mode.
On Monday, one week after spring break ended, staff and students in several sixth-grade classrooms on the second floor again reported a strong odor. Some parents said their children complained of difficulty breathing, and some had red, itchy eyes and rashes.
Paul Patu, who has three children at the school, said he saw one sixth-grader faint Tuesday morning after his daughter's class came into the school's library from their classroom. Many of the students were holding their chests and crying, he said.
Patu, a son of school- board member Betty Patu, had been meeting with a district staff member in the library. The students arrived just after the staff member had assured Patu the school was safe.
Patu is one of several parents keeping their children out of school until they receive more information. So is Fernandez, the parent-teacher association co-chair.
Fernandez said he started to take his son to school on Tuesday but changed his mind after he saw several of his son's classmates leaving with their parents.
Both Patu and Fernandez are frustrated that the district hasn't provided more information to parents sooner. The district sent out a letter in January, and a second letter went out Tuesday.
Spencer said she didn't know how many students were experiencing problems, or how many were sent home. But enough students were experiencing symptoms Tuesday that she said the district brought in a second nurse to help out.
"This has been a very concerning and a very frustrating issue," she said.
Linda Shaw: 206-464-2359 or
Some parents homeschooling children until Seattle school solves mystery odor
SEATTLE -- Some parents take on teaching responsibilities today instead of letting their kids go to South Shore School in the Rainer Valley.
This week, the Seattle School District closed a section of the building to run tests after several students complained of headaches, nausea and rashes.
Some parents and students are trying to deal with this mess as the district tries to solve the mystery.
A group of students from South Shore head to school, but today it's at their 6th grade classmate’s home.
Parent Alyssa Royse is homeschooling her daughter and several others until South Shore School administrators can figure out what's making some kids and teachers sick.
“There's no way I would consider sending her to a building somebody said we know it's causing problems. We don't know what they are,” said Royse.
A mysterious problem that caused 6th grader Hawi Ali to pass out Tuesday.
“I asked for air and went outside and my head felt heavy so I fainted. Someone picked me up and put me in the nurse office,” she said.
“Right now we're leaning towards an issue with possibly the concrete,” said Bill Martin, Seattle School District facilities director. “There's some things going don't seem straightforward like they should be.”
The situation came to a head early Thursday morning when Martin tried to answer parents’ questions. Martin says the fumes could be coming from adhesive on the concrete and says the school will continue running tests. But in the meantime, the new building is deemed safe. Some parents aren't buying it.
“She's not setting foot in that building until that building is safe, so I'm psychologically preparing to have school here or anywhere else for the rest of the school year,” sad Royse.
Parents can get their student's curriculum. The school says safety is paramount, so it will have a nurse at school for the rest of the week and continue testing.
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