BEAUFORT — A section of Battery Creek High School was closed Thursday after two teachers complained of illness caused by fumes from chemicals being used to treat a mold problem at the school. The closure marks the second time in about two weeks that classrooms have been evacuated because of the chemicals district maintenance workers are using to clean and seal air ducts in the school’s heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system. The project is the first step in solving the school’s mold problem, discovered in summer 2001. A $2.7 million dehumidification system, scheduled for completion by August, will complete the process.
School officials last closed one of the halls in the building Oct. 30 when a teacher, a student and a staff member complained of throat irritation and difficulty breathing. After the incident, district officials decided to move the cleaning schedule from nights and weekends to weekends only, closing the school on Friday nights and finishing cleaning early Sunday mornings, allowing time for the fumes to dissipate. Sporting and other weekend events were canceled, and teachers and students were not allowed in the school on weekends.
However, teachers Thursday complained the fumes still were affecting them, said Principal Rodney Jenkins. Six classrooms in a different hall were closed for the day and two teachers were sent to a doctor after they complained of difficulty breathing. District maintenance staff investigated the problem during the day, Jenkins said. The affected rooms had not been cleaned since early Sunday morning, he said. No students complained of health problems related to the fumes Thursday.
The two closures are not the first time there have been complaints about air quality at the school. Investigators from the state Occupational Safety and Health Administration visited the school Oct. 22 and 23 after an employee complained about the chemical fumes. The state Department of Health and Environmental Control also visited last month after a parent complained her daughter was ill because of the cleaning agents.
Jenkins said OSHA officials told him last week there were no harmful particles detected in the air when investigators visited the school, but OSHA officials said Thursday they would not release details because the investigation is incomplete. Investigations usually take about six weeks, said Lisa Kudelka, spokeswoman for the agency.
The duct cleaning is scheduled for completion by mid-December, said John Williams, school district spokesman. District officials are considering other options for treating the mold, he said.
BY CRYSTAL STREUBER, Special to The Packet