[Picture] Sick School Syndrome: In the News

From: St. Petersburg (FL) Times - March 24, 1997

In Sarasota County, a mother pulled her son out of school after, she said, he was "poisoned" by pesticide spraying. "Children should never be exposed to these toxic chemicals," said Nancy Rogers, who now teaches her 7-year-old son, Andrew, at home. "This can happen to any child."

In North Florida's Wakulla County, a family tried to sue the school district after their son became a "bubble boy" so severely allergic to everything that he had to be isolated in a sterile environment. The family blamed school pesticide spraying.

Some districts, including Pinellas, are cutting back on spraying. They are focusing on sanitation and other common sense measures and using chemicals as a last resort.

From: Inland Empire / Metro Sun (Yucaipa, CA) - June 8, 1997

Three years after a Yucaipa Junior High School student became ill from what his family called contaminated air in the classroom, Troy Grove has been awarded $83,500. "We believe that we established the contamination of the air quality in the junior high school," said San Diego attorney Michael Padilla, who represented Grove against the Yucaipa-Calimesa Joint Unified School District in the 1995 lawsuit. '''The heating, ventilation and air conditioning system was not properly maintained and was not efficient in the manner in which it was moving air in and out of the classroom. As a result, we had mold, fungi and contaminants at very unacceptable levels in a number of those room, and Troy Grove was injured...compromising his high school days."

Grove will receive $47,000 from the Inland Empire Schools Insurance Authority for the out-of-court settlement, expected to be signed by a Superior Court Judge (Thomas Nuss) on July 7. "I don't know if money could ever really take care of everything I went through," said Grove, 18, who received a Yucaipa High School diploma Thursday though homeschooled since the 10th grade. Grove's mother, Doris, said her son's immune system was permanently damaged by the exposure to the contaminated air in the portable classroom. He is now hypersensitive to his environment, she said.

Air quality tests in 1994 showed high levels of bacteria, mold, yeast, fungi and carbon dioxide in several portable classrooms and in the counseling center. A third of the junior high staff filed workers' compensation claims against the district during that time, claiming respiratory and other health problems.

From: The Culver City Chronicle (CA) - December 17, 1997

Judy Sanderson, a chemically sensitive Culver City high school biology teacher who has taught at the school since 1970, and who has been the victim of "fragrance assaults" by some of her students on more than 90 occasions (since 1993), has won some precedent-setting accommodations after a collective bargaining agreement was issued by arbitrator, Ronald Hoh, signed on November 25, 1997 (California State Mediation and Conciliation Service Case # 96-3-740). In a landmark decision by a state arbitrator released in late November, student pranksters caught dousing the teacher or her classroom with fragrance-based products will be punished as they would be for any other physical assault on an instructor.

Fifteen years ago, Sanderson was accidentally exposed to a dangerous dose of concentrated formaldehyde. She now suffers from headaches, nausea, chest pains, burning eyes and nose, feverishness, and diminished eye/hand coordination, motor skills, and short-term memory loss when exposed to formaldehyde, fragrances, wood dust, gasoline and other solvents. She has since also been diagnosed with Reactive Airways Disease. Unfortunately, some students and parents have not taken her illness seriously. Time and time again she has found her classroom door, floor and lab tables sticky with scented residue.

While the binding decision did not grant Sanderson all of her requested accommodations, the concessions that were made validated her complaints and reiterate the fact that, "Employees shall not be required to work under unsafe conditions or be required to perform tasks in facilities which endanger their health and or safety." The following accommodations have been won by Ms. Sanderson:

Sanderson's victory is a triumph for EI/MCS patients everywhere!

(Judy Sanderson has been a client of mine for the last several years.)

From: The St. Charles Republican (IL) - September 25, 1997

Shawn Villwock, a 16-year-old sophomore at St. Charles High School, slumps his tired body in his chair at the oak kitchen table of his Royal Fox home. In front of him sits a glass of water next to half a dozen pills including anti-depressants, vitamin supplements and liver cleansers. Behind him, an ionizer machine hums as it blows fresh air into the house. Speaking at a barely audible volume, he finds the energy to speak a few words at a time, telling about his condition. "Slept everyday last year during class," Shawn said. "Couldn't breathe. Dizzy. Out of it. Couldn't function."

Shawn has been diagnosed with multiple allergies to mold, dust and pollens, as well as with Candida, a yeast-related illness that essentially weakens the immune system. He is currently taking nutrient supplements and has an IV treatment every week.

According to his mother, Cathy, Shawn's condition has been severely aggravated by attending classes at the high school. Cathy Villwock points to several factors in the high school she says contribute to her son's condition, including a presence of mold, poor ventilation in the classrooms and an overall poor quality in the air the students breathe on a daily basis. Similar concerns have been raised by the school faculty, several of whom have complained of symptoms such as burning eyes, burning in the throat, and nasal passages, headaches and lethargy while working in the school.

The Dunham wing of the high school was built over 25 years ago during a fuel crisis as an energy-efficient structure with NO WINDOWS in many rooms, many interior rooms and few vents. Science teacher Bonnie Redmer said dramatic enrollment increases have caused partitions to be put into rooms and closets to be made into classrooms, decreasing the effectiveness of the ventilation system.

During Homecoming Weekend in 1994, four teachers and 26 students were hospitalized after becoming ill due to noxious fumes at the school.

From: Detroit Daily News (MI) - September 19, 1997

A cloud of hydrogen sulfide gas drifted Thursday from a chemical plant to two elementary schools, sending at least 45 people, mostly children, to four area hospitals. The symptoms, mainly nausea, headaches and vomiting, were considered treatable, and the patients were expedited to be released the same day, officials said. Courtis Elementary School was forced to close about an hour after the 9 a.m. leak from the Quaker Chemical Co. plant, less than a mile away.

"I was feeling like I was going to throw up," pupil Iesha Stevens told WXYZ-TV of Southfield. The leak, which also prompted the evacuation of Keidan Elementary School was contained by Thursday afternoon and both schools were expected to reopen Friday.

From: The San Jose Mercury News (CA) - May 21, 1997

In schools across the country, bad air has been making children, teachers and other sick. When Christa McAuliffe Elementary School in San Jose began a long overdue renovation, children developed mild symptoms, but during the application of a roofing solvent, a kindergarten teacher and a parent became violently ill. Another mother, volunteering in her son's portable classroom, developed severe symptoms and now has Multiple Chemical Sensitivities.

From: The Charleston Post and Courier (SC) - May 18-20, 1997

South Carolina's climate produces a great deal of mold and mildew, with one in five schools thought to have unsatisfactory air quality. After teachers and students at St. Andrews Elementary in Charleston County began getting sick, the local newspaper hired an environmental consulting firm to examine the school. The firm found the school's air conditioner covered with mold and dust. "Totally disgusting," said one of the firm's partners. Almost 60% of those at the school were experiencing symptoms.

Carpets are a big part of the problem. After Hurricane Bertha flooded North Myrtle Beach Elementary School, its music teacher developed Multiple Chemical Sensitivities when the school installed new carpeting. At H.E. McCracken Middle School in Hilton Head Island, carpets were cleaned but not properly ventilated, with the resultant moldy air making many children sick. Last October the local school district approved $540,000 to remove the carpet in 27 schools and replace it with vinyl tile.

An ill teacher in another South Carolina school brought an air purifier into her classroom and then sent the filter to a lab, which discovered an alphabet soup of toxic chemicals, including carcinogens, that were also found in the janitors' floor cleaners and in her blood. Now disabled with MCS, she found school administrators denying that there was anything wrong with the building. Fortunately, the Workers Compensation Commission sided with her.

From: The Houston Chronicle (TX) - an article series - June 8, 1997 - by Cindy Horswell

From: The Gloucester Daily Times (PA) - April 3, 1997

Karen Spencer, a mother of a Gloucester High School student, presented the School Committee with a petition signed by 86 people who have suffered some type of ailment they say is related to renovations at the school. "This is just the tip of the iceberg," Spencer told the committee. Headaches, nausea, rashes, and fatigue are some of the symptoms students and teachers have complained about in the past few months at Gloucester High.

Some blame those maladies on fumes they associate with extensive construction work under way at the school.

Science teacher Christina McMahon, who became sick last fall and has been out on disability leave ever since, broke into tears as she wondered aloud if she would ever teach again. "Think about what you are doing to the kids," McMahon implored.

From: The Star Tribune (MN) - May 10, 1997

A worker who sprayed WD-40 lubricant on a jammed air intake damper Friday inadvertently caused the evacuation of a New Brighton grade school. The fumes were sucked into the ventilation system at Bel Air Elementary School, 1800 5th St., NW., causing an evacuation of about 600 students plus staff members Friday morning, said John Ostlund, health and safety coordinator for the Mounds View School District.

Seven students and eight staff members were taken to Unity and Mercy hospitals, but almost all were released within a few hours, hospital officials said.

Ostlund said a worker hired to fix a rooftop fresh air damper sprayed the lubricant in four places while intake ventilation fans were operating. Two teachers feeling nauseated and dizzy went to the school nurse about 10:45 a.m. Students soon followed with similar complaints, said Principal Craig Sundberg. He said he ordered a partial, then full evacuation as more students reported feeling ill. Ambulances and police responded.

From: The Daily Bulletin (Ontario, CA) - article series by Troy Anderson - June 1997

Chrissy Garavito (daughter of Janine Matelko), age 15, died on June 30, 1997, allegedly due to ongoing exposures to organophosphate pesticides heavily sprayed throughout her school district in Fontana, California. Chrissy had been having "seizure-like episodes" while enrolled as a student at South Ridge Middle School. She would turn blue and stop breathing. Her physician placed her on anti-seizure medication. Happily, these episodes abated when Chrissy transferred to Fontana High School, where she served as freshman and sophomore class president, a cheerleader, and was revered as a star athlete and honor roll student. In late June, Chrissy was invited to play at an "al star" softball game back at the problematic (pesticide-laden) middle school. She and her teammates changed clothes in the locker room and then went out on the field of South Ridge Middle. Chrissy collapsed while sliding into home plate. It took the paramedics 20 minutes to get a pulse. She was transported to a local hospital and kept on life support for about a week until she died on June 30, 1997.

An autopsy showed that Chrissy did not have epilepsy but rather that she suffered from a relatively rare condition known as Prolonged QT's (Prolonged QT Syndrome), which causes heart arrhythmias and Sudden Death. Chrissy's Mom has since learned that two other students (1 girl age 15; 1 girl age 18) have died of the same kind of sudden death and that one 40-year-old female teacher died of the same condition in early 1997.

It is also interesting to note that the middle school was built on a toxic dump (Kaiser Steel buried radioactive wastes; Stringfellow Acid Pit) where 35 million gallons of solvents and pesticides were dumped between 1956 and 1972.


Previously highlighted sick school syndrome articles can be found here.