Officials remain puzzled over lingering fumes

David Starr Jordan Middle School’s main office remains closed several months after the school’s roof was replaced, due to employees at the school site still able to detect lingering fumes.

Concerns about the fumes among employees began after school started in August, not long after Jordan’s roof was replaced using Measure S bond funds.

By mid-October, English teacher Dana Rangle had relocated to another classroom after feeling numbness in her tongue and lips and a burning sensation in her lungs and throat.

When school officials tested the air quality last fall, results on 93 chemicals came back negative or within permissible levels outlined by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency, officials said.

“We have longitudinal data that shows that the Jordan work areas are safe,” said Colleen Patterson, interim assistant superintendent for Burbank Unified, in an email. “That being said, we thought that the scent would dissipate over winter break and yet some of us can still smell lingering traces.”

As the months have pressed on, the cause of the persistent fumes has remained elusive.

“There are still some fumes that employees can detect in the administrative offices and library,” said Principal Stacy Cashman in an email. “The fumes seem to come and go, and that is part of the reason it has taken this long.”

A handful of other schools that also received new roofs in 2013 with materials manufactured by roofing company Tremco, based in Beachwood, Ohio, also emitted odor after the installation, but the fumes dissipated at those sites, officials said.

Burbank Unified officials have started working with several industrial hygienists who will make recommendations for what steps the district should take next, Patterson said.

“Since we are still not satisfied with the smell, we have made arrangements for several firms…[to] work together to brainstorm on next steps, and that is where we are in the process,” she said.

So far, she said, no agency or individual has recommended replacing the roof altogether.

In the meantime, employees have filed 18 workers’ compensation claims because of exposure to the fumes, said Anita Schackmann, director of human resources for Burbank Unified.

The district’s third-party administrator — Keenan & Associates — is still processing those claims, she added.

Cashman said the office’s closure has only led to minor inconveniences. While the office has remained closed, the school’s three administrators, office manager and others have worked out of classrooms.

“Our staff and students are making great strides in preparing for the Common Core implementation next year and we are proud of the fact that our focus this year has remained on instruction,” she said.


Follow Kelly Corrigan on Twitter: @kellymcorrigan.


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