WALDPORT — Fourteen students from Crestview Heights Elementary School were in the emergency room Tuesday at the behest of concerned parents, with some testing positive for elevated carbon monoxide levels following another incident likely linked to a faulty boiler.
Only a day earlier, the Lincoln County School District had released a letter to parents addressing a series of incidents surrounding boiler misfires, noxious odors and other concerns about campus safety that go back to January.
One student called the News-Times to express her bewilderment at the evacuations to the cafeteria Tuesday after students and staff again detected odors in multiple classrooms. Students were later cleared by the fire department to return to class, but parents took sick kids to Newport for testing.
“The school is lying about kids getting hurt by carbon monoxide,” the student said. “I really feel they might be hiding something from us.”
The district declared Tuesday afternoon it is shutting down all boilers for the next two to four weeks.
“This is necessary to help learn if the boilers are contributing to the odor and if they can be blamed for exposure to CO,” District Superintendent Karen Gray said in a message late Tuesday afternoon.
Earlier, she had acknowledged deepening distrust about the district’s handling of problems that go back several months.
“We are deeply concerned with the events that have resulted in a mistrust of our ability to keep students and staff safe in our school,” Gray wrote to parents in the April 15 letter. “These events have resulted in mistrust and heightened concern about whether we are doing everything we can to address the issue.”
The hospital did not identify the source of the carbon monoxide. While the school district hasn’t called the exposure poisoning, many parents did just that both online and in talking directly to the News-Times.
“They’re not detecting the part per million that they should be,” said one Crestview Heights parent, Natasha Morton, of the carbon monoxide detectors at the school. “It takes a lot less than the parts per million they’re detecting to make somebody sick.”
Morton brought five children to Samaritan Pacific Communities Hospital from Waldport on Tuesday. Two of the children she brought to the hospital were placed on oxygen because their levels of carbon monoxide were high, she said.
“She’s been having headaches for months prior to where we even knew there was a problem,” said another Crestview Heights parent, Elizabeth Lizarraga, who was at the hospital with her daughter. “I couldn’t figure out why she was feeling so sick.”
Parents have reacted with increasing outrage after each incident at Crestview involving the boiler and noxious odors.
“If you’re there to protect our children, why has this been happening since January?” asked Morton. “This isn’t getting resolved by keeping our school open.”
The faulty boiler has put the district in an ongoing damage control mode since late January.
“Something needs to be done,” said Waldport resident Marc Norenberg. “This is supposed to be a state-of-the-art school. I think I’m more concerned than the school officials.”
Solution has escaped district
Other than working with local fire-fighting agencies to address the immediate aftermath of each incident, the district also hired consultants from PBS Engineering and Environmental, Inc. to conduct an independent investigation, in which engineers evaluated and tested the boiler and the building at Crestview Heights. Those reports showed no diesel exhaust residue or any other hazardous chemicals present at the school.
“At this time, it is PBS’ opinion that there is currently no indication of an indoor air quality concern related to the Jan. 26 boiler misfire incident,” wrote Douglas Hancock, a senior industrial hygienist for PBS Engineering, in a letter dated Feb. 11 about the first incident at Crestview Heights, in which the administration was criticized by some parents who took issue with school being allowed on a day they say exposed their children to airborne toxins.
Gray, in her letter released this week, cited the finding by PBS consultants and said school staff met twice to discuss the issue. The school district also held a public meeting to address parent concerns, and school officials took the extra step of installing 97 new carbon monoxide detectors at the middle and elementary schools.
“None of the carbon monoxide detectors were triggered by these events and remained at zero,” Gray wrote in her April 15 letter.
The district also contracted with Groth Gates to raise the stack on the roof of the boiler room eight feet to get the smoke up and out of the area higher and faster, Gray said.
“This hasn’t happened yet but we have contracted with them for the work already,” she said.
In-house specialists like Tom Brown, the district’s boiler specialist, are monitoring the Crestview Heights boiler, too. After the initial misfire in January, the jet and the jet screen were both cleaned out and the boiler run to burn off excess fuel, according to Gray’s letter.
“The boiler was then taken apart again and checked to make sure the jet and screen were clean,” Gray wrote. “The boiler was started up again and ran clean. After that point, every 10 days were are changing the fuel filters on the boiler. They have been deemed to be in good working order.”
District officials also reached out to state officials at both the Oregon Health Department and the Oregon Department of Education to ensure the district didn’t miss anything, and plans to hire an environmental services company to conduct a study will be overseen by a committee of parent volunteers. The district is actively recruiting for this group.
Measures to monitor air flow, rescheduling trash pickups outside of school hours, possible replacement of the boiler system for an electric system, mold testing, cleaning the air ducts, measuring sulfur and nitrogen levels in any future studies at the campus and cooperation with Department of Environmental Quality officials are among plans of action, the letter said.
The recent events surrounding the school’s boiler system started when a boiler misfire in January prompted an evacuation because of fears of carbon monoxide poisoning, for which one student was hospitalized.
Another incident at the Waldport school in February involved diesel fumes in the school’s air intake system, and students and staff were sent to the cafeteria rather than being fully evacuated from campus while district officials investigated the source of the smell.