Seven spaces in the Sky Valley Education Center in Monroe will remain shut down until the Monroe School District receives results from further PCB testing.
Superintendent Dr. Fredrika Smith announced Wednesday that what are most likely false positives were recorded in a December test conducted by PBS Engineering and Environmental, Inc.
The company has been conducting regular inspections of SVEC and providing quarterly reports, following complaints the district began receiving in fall 2015 from parents and students regarding illnesses they believed were related to contaminants in the building.
The recent anomalous data showed “strikingly high levels” of PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyl) — a banned inorganic compound with associated environmental risks — in spaces around the facility, including five used by students, Smith said.
Those areas include a classroom, gathering place, annex, gym and the girls locker room, as well as a storage space and electrical room, according to a March 1 school district letter to parents. No detectable amounts were found in the other 43 tested locations, according to a Feb.1 letter from PBS. A retest completed by PBS in January showed no detectable amounts of PCBs were found in any of those areas, according to the letter to parents.
The Environmental Protection Agency said the results are most likely due to a contaminated sample, Smith said. PBS determined issues likely occurred during the handling process, but the school district is hiring a different group, Fulcrum Environmental Consulting, Inc., to carry out the next round of testing, just to be safe, she said.
Nearly $1.2 million in school renovations were completed over the summer, Smith said. Calking throughout the building was scraped out, and suspect light fixtures and light tubes were replaced. No new symptoms have been reported since. The first concerns described in 2015 were largely related to respiratory functions, such as sneezing, itchy and watering eyes, “much like a severe cold,” she said.
Nosebleeds, stomachaches and thyroid issues, as well as early puberty in students as young as six and eight years old, also occurred, as previously reported by the Monitor. Between 30-100 people reported health concerns, according to various reports from a parent, Snohomish County Health District and school district staff.
Water, air quality and asbestos testing were all completed by PBS throughout the building in last January. The results concluded ineffective heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC), mold, chemicals, PCB-containing light fixtures, dust and asbestos were much to blame, as well as various other culprits outlined in PBS's indoor air quality assessment.
Since initial testing, the school's ventilation systems have all been brought up to their specifications throughout the school, said assistant superintendent Dr. Justin Blasko. All are now on a regular maintenance schedule, to ensure the systems are functioning properly, he said.
In addition to renovations, practices in and outside the school were reviewed and revised to ensure staff and students have a fresh air supply.
One concern was that exhaust fumes from idling cars in pick-up areas were making their way indoors, Blasko said. Parents who park in areas close to classrooms were asked by school administrators to be wary of their proximity and turn off vehicles while they wait, he said.
PBS's report recommended a number of other measures, such as cleaning, housekeeping, organizing, labeling, chemical storage methods and renovations, including replacing light fixtures and calking that had tested positive for PCBs. The health district issued a list of remediation requirements last April, including age restrictions and access for pregnant mothers in specified areas.
If the EPA believed December's test results were actually of concern, no one of any age would be allowed in the areas, “the numbers are so likely not accurate,” Smith said. The school district is following a multi-year abatement and mitigation plan to make sure the school stays safe for its nearly 850 students, she said.
Blasko said school district administrators are working to release a timeline for when the December test was taken, samples were sent to the lab and the school district received the results.
More testing will likely take place Friday, March 3, or Monday, March 6, and results should be back by Friday, March 10, Smith said.
The school district is working with the health district while the school spaces are shut down.