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Report Clears Classrooms as Source of School Illnesses

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State health officials have found no evidence that exposure to high levels of arsenic and a potentially toxic mold came from portable classrooms in the Saugus Union School District, according to a report released Tuesday.

The findings come after an investigation into reports that a handful of teachers and students had been exposed to and sickened by high levels of potentially toxic chemicals and mold. A Santa Clarita toxicologist, who tested the individuals, and several parents have blamed portable classrooms as the source.

“There may have been some past practices that allowed chemicals to build up indoors,” said Richard Kreutzer, chief of the state Department of Health’s environmental investigations branch, which compiled the report.

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Those practices may have included things such as improper ventilation, he said. That buildup could have caused the headaches, stomachaches and nausea reported by several students. Proper care and operation of the classroom’s ventilation system would remedy such problems, he said.

Toxicologist Dr. Gary Ordog agreed that better ventilation practices should remedy the problem. He maintains, however, that chemicals in the classroom are making his patients sick.

“They get sick at school, feel fine when they get home, then get sick when they return to school,” he said.

Health officials said they found extremely low levels of formaldehyde and no source of arsenic or the potentially toxic mold, stachybotrys, in the portable classrooms.

District officials were pleased by the department’s findings.

“We’re relieved that they’re not finding indications of contaminants in our classrooms,” said Mark Fulmer, assistant superintendent of business services for the district.

“They’ve made recommendations the district is going to take very seriously,” Fulmer said.

Among the recommendations are monitoring air quality in room 40 at Rio Vista and room 30 at Helmers elementary schools, forming a parent committee to oversee monitoring and allowing those parents to choose up to 20 classrooms for monitoring throughout the year.

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In response to one of the biggest concerns of parents, the report stated, “We would allow our children to attend school in any SUSD classroom, if it is properly maintained and ventilated.”

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