January 13 2003:
An indoor air quality survey was conducted Dec. 17  at the school as part of the federal Environmental Protection Agency's Tools for Schools program, which helps officials monitor and improve indoor air quality using low-cost methods. Eighty-six staff members participated in the survey.
"There are 49 people who work here who feel that their symptoms are related to the building," said Principal John Hudson. "It could be something as simple as a cough or dry throat."
About 55 percent of the staff said they had not experienced symptoms like frequent dry throats, itching eyes, headaches and congestion before working at the school, the survey said.
The survey offers the first significant data that may link the 9-year-old school's leaky roof to widespread health ailments. Last April, Superintendent Gregory Riccio signed an agreement to fix the roof with the federal Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights in Boston. The agreement came after a parent complained that the school's leaky roof had aggravated her daughter's health problems.
The survey asked teachers whether they had regularly experienced any of 24 different health ailments. The most common complaints were: dry throats (66 percent); headaches (60 percent); coughing (52 percent); congestion (51 percent); sinusitis (50 percent) and mental fatigue (48 percent).
More than a third of the certified staff also suffered from lethargy; excessive phlegm, and respiratory infections. Since arriving at Torrington Middle School, seven staff members were diagnosed with asthma and 11 suffered frequent nosebleeds, according to the survey.
However, relatively few staff members reported trouble with rashes, pneumonia or tonsillitis.
"I'm having a hard time drawing some conclusions," Hudson said last week. "Personally, I haven't had any health problems." Hudson is a new principal who started working at the school last July.
Hudson said another 50 classified employees at the school are expected to return surveys by the end of the week. He will discuss the results from the survey at Wednesday's Parent-Teacher Organization meeting. Hudson and several mothers, who have advocated fixing the roof, also are interested in surveying the school's 1,400 students and their parents about health problems.
Beverly Pilkington has been a science teacher for 30 years. She has taught at the middle school since it opened in 1994. Last year, she purchased a $600 air purifier for her classroom.
The photo ionization tube disintegrates material like dust, bacteria and mold spores.
"This was my choice for my health in that school and the health of my children," Pilkington said.
A few years ago, Pilkington noticed she had occasional bouts of laryngitis and was coming down with more colds than usual.
"When I was home on vacation, I was fine," she said.
Since she purchased the air purifier, she has not suffered from colds or laryngitis, she said.
During Christmas vacation, more than 700 water-stained ceiling tiles were removed at the school. When Pilkington returned to school, she experienced sneezing, a tightening around her chest, and burning eyes when she worked in an unfiltered classroom for a few hours. She said it may have been a reaction to dust dislodged when the tiles were removed.
The next day, Pilkington returned to her classroom, where she did not experience problems, she said. Her classroom had been cleaned of dust.
Hudson plans to use the survey results to improve conditions, where possible.
He pointed out that 65 percent of the teachers reported their classrooms are not vacuumed thoroughly and regularly. That could have some affect on coughing, he said.
"With the data we've collected, we can definitely prioritize and take some action and make a difference," Hudson said.
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