Panguitch High School's long-running battle with "sick building syndrome" may finally be won by mid-October.
District officials promised teachers, parents and students that renovation of the school's heating and ventilating system would be completed by Oct. 15, according to Superintendent Philip Blais. It is expected the $60,800 project will be completed by that date and officials are hopeful it will solve the problem. The entire system has been redesigned.Remodeling is being done in two classrooms while students are in other rooms during the construction.
Symptoms of sick building syndrome began in 1988 when students and teachers started to suffer from headaches and nausea. In one class, about one-third of the students became extremely ill while another one-third suffered minor sickness.
Remodeling the heating and ventilating system isn't the only project aimed at correcting the problem. Humidifiers have been installed and green plants placed in each room. Dirt berms outside the school were covered with sod by volunteers because dust from the berms was suspected as a possible contributor to the problem. Carpets were replaced.
Exact cause of the sickness was never determined, although projects at the school and testing of students and teachers were conducted. Studies only indicated that it was being caused by the building.
Blood samples from two teachers and a dozen students were taken and examined at the University of Utah Medical Center. Doctors also performed chest X-rays, tested lung capacities and conducted blood chemistry analyses. Blood samples of those most severely affected were sent to the Antibody Assay Laboratory in Santa Ana, Calif.
The laboratory reported a low level of trimellitic anhydride (a benzine-type substance), indicating victims suffered from an allergic-type reaction. But there was no conclusion as to the cause. The Rocky Mountain Center for Occupational Environmental Health, conducting other tests, also reported there was no evidence to indicate a cause.
Public meetings were held, with question and answer forums, to inform citizens of what school officials were doing in an effort to determine the cause of the malady. Copies of medical reports were made available for public review at the district office.
Carpeting was replaced and some improvements made to the ventilating system. Surplus glycol was obtained from Hill Air Force Base to use in the system.
Part of the district's expenses to investigate the problems was met with a $10,000 grant from the state.
Parents reported that their students were free of the sickness during summer months when the school was not in session. But when students returned to school, the symptoms began to reappear. They suffered from malaise, sore throat, bloody nose, fatigue and an inability to resist and overcome even simple illnesses.
Although a report last spring described some improvements to the ventilation system that had been completed, teachers didn't feel they were sufficient. They wrote a letter to the school board stating they would not re-enter the school building without more changes made.
When they were told that blueprints were finished and the system would be completely renovated by Oct. 12, they answered, "We are entering our building under written, verbal and, most important, `public' protest."
The problem had existed for months when Blais appeared on the scene. He went to the Rocky Mountain Institute in Salt Lake City to learn the history of the problem at the Panguitch school. The school board had contracted with the institute for a study.
The board consulted with the architect and design engineers about the air system. Smoke tests revealed stagnant air lay at the lower two-thirds of the affected rooms, so air volume was increased and attempts were made to improve its flow.
The superintendent says the cause of the problem may never be known for sure and it is possible that several factors contributed to the total problem. "The important thing is to have the building problem-free," he said.