Estancia High may get more air-quality testing for sewer-like odors

More air-quality testing could be coming to the Estancia High School science wing, which has been plagued by pungent, sewer-like odors for nearly a decade.

On a 6-0 vote Tuesday night, the Newport-Mesa Unified School District board, with trustee Vicki Snell absent, approved spending up to $60,000 for an industrial hygiene and environmental consultant to continue monitoring, if needed, six of the Costa Mesa campus’ science classrooms and roof.

Arcadia-based Executive Environmental would look for hydrogen sulfide, sulfur dioxide and volatile organic compounds. No testing dates have been determined.

The board’s decision comes after the Daily Pilot reported last week about health concerns from Estancia teachers exposed to sewer gases or sewage emanating from walls, sinks and floors in the science wing following a renovation project that was completed in 2008. One teacher, who remains on medical leave, contends the exposure has caused him to have migraines.

District officials have said there have been no indications of unsafe air in the classrooms. They attributed the problem to improperly capped sewer pipes, most of which were fixed this summer.

Executive Environmental also did monitoring at Estancia from May through July. It concluded that the science rooms were safe to occupy under California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards.

Tuesday’s vote paid for that work retroactively.

During Tuesday’s meeting, school board members and Britt Dowdy, president of the Newport-Mesa Federation of Teachers, questioned which standards should be applied in any new testing.

Dowdy referenced Michael Kleinman, an adjunct professor in UC Irvine’s Department of Medicine, who told the Pilot that Estancia’s testing should have gone beyond Cal/OSHA guidelines and adhere to the more-stringent standards of the state Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment.

Tim Holcomb, Newport-Mesa assistant superintendent and chief operating officer, said he has since spoken with Kleinman. Holcomb noted that the difference in standards between Cal/OSHA and the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment is vast and that each person’s reaction to what may have been in the science wing is different and hard to standardize.

Holcomb said the district is trying to learn as much as it can about the situation — which can get very technical — and plans to take the issue back to the board at a later date.

Russell Lee-Sung, Newport-Mesa’s acting superintendent in place of Fred Navarro, who is recovering from an injury, emphasized that Newport-Mesa is concerned about Estancia.

“This is something that we’re looking at very seriously and very deeply,” Lee-Sung said.

bradley.zint@latimes.com

Twitter: @BradleyZint


UPDATES:

Sept. 19, 4:25 p.m.: This article was updated to add information about approval of a retroactive payment for work Executive Environmental did earlier this year.

This article was originally published Sept. 13 at 10:15 a.m.

An earlier version of this article stated that testing would be done. In fact, testing might occur if district officials request it.
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