Many Questions Remain after Testing Results Discussed

I attended the special school board meeting on Thursday, July 30th where the school board was to reveal the test results of the air quality testing done at Cortland Grade School.

Superintendent Dr. James Briscoe had previously announced at various public gatherings that he was going to have a toxicologist review the results of the air quality testing and explain it to parents and the school board. His stated reasoning was that he was not an expert and feared that parents and community members were overreacting to the initial air quality testing results.

Superintendent Briscoe introduced Dr. Hogan an Industrial Hygienist, to explain the results of the tests for Hydrogen Sulfide (H2S). Dr. Hogan proceeded to explain the results of the air quality testing at Cortland Grade School as he passed around a number of handouts. According to Dr. Hogan, there was only a small amount of H2S detected but it was not in school.

Dr. Hogan recommended a continuous monitor at the school due to expressed concerns.

The room was packed with concerned parents, district staff and concerned community members. Many questions and concerns were expressed by parents and community members. Among them was where the actual test results were? Dr. Briscoe stated he would have these posted on the district web site for parents the following day.

Dr. Hogan stated that two types of testing were done, one with a charcoal tube test and the other with a highly sensitive instrument called a Jerome meter. According to Dr. Hogan, the tests with the charcoal tube were in the high range, while the Jerome meter tested what he called “acceptable minimal risk” range.

So why are parents concerned? As a former nurse, one of the most important things I learned was children are not simply little adults. Their anatomy, physiology and compensatory mechanisms are quite different, and they change as the child grows.

Therefore, the levels of toxicity that an average adult would respond to would happen sooner in a child due their physical size and developing physiology in relation to an adult. Compound that with a child with special needs such as Autism, Cystic Fibrosis, Asthma and many other significant special needs that children can have, and they are even more susceptible.

Children are more vulnerable than adults to H2S, first because they breathe more rapidly, taking in significantly more pollution per pound of body weight than do adults. A resting infant, for example, inhales twice as much air, relative to its size, as does a resting adult. Second, national data show that children spend an average of about 50% more time outdoors than adults. Third, children are three times more active while outdoors than adults, engaged in sports and other vigorous activities; this increased activity raises breathing rates and significantly increases inhalation and in some cases swallowing of pollutants. Fourth, children are particularly vulnerable to toxic substances because their bodies are immature and rapidly growing. Fifth, children are in their prime learning years and H2S exposure causes brain damage. The impairment of mental faculties in a child amounts to a lifetime of harm.[1]

“Public health scientists now recognize that hydrogen sulfide is a potent neurotoxin, and that chronic exposure to even low ambient levels causes irreversible damage to the brain and central nervous system. Children are among the most susceptible to this poison gas.

It is unacceptable for communities to have to continue suffering the ill effects of H2S when the technology to control H2S emissions is available and affordable.” — Neil Carman, Ph.D.

Many questions remain in my mind that I feel need to be answered:

  • Why weren’t the test results shared prior to the school board meeting on 7/30?
  • Who recommended Dr. Hogan?
  • Why was Waste Management allowed to perform testing alongside Carnow, Conibear & Assoc.?
  • It was stated that the test results with the charcoal tube vs. Jerome Meter were vastly different. Since they were so out range from one another, why not perform additional testing?
  • If Waste Management performed testing, what were their results?
  • Who will monitor the continuous readings? What happens if the readings are high or alarm?
  • Why weren’t parents notified via the parental notification system? (They use it for PTO meetings, why not for something as important as this?)
  • Why is it that on the analysis from Dr. Hogan that he handed out at the school board meeting and the Carnow, Conibear & Assoc. test results that were posted on the school district web site both state Draft?
  • To me, draft copies indicate a working copy and there is a final version forthcoming. If these are draft copies, where are the final versions? Why haven’t we seen those?
  • What about the parents who still aren’t assured that the school is safe for their child to attend?
  • What will the district do when those parents decide they don’t want their child to attend Cortland?

In Dr. Briscoe’s letter to the IL Dept. of Environmental Health, he cc’s an Anthony Ficarelli, who is he? I can’t find any reference to his connection to the IL Dept. of Environmental Health, the Regional Superintendent of Schools, ATSDR, or Hogan & Associates. I did note that the Waste Management Operations Mgr, Dale Hoekstra, the attorney for the expansion Mr. Moran, and other Waste Management officials were present at this meeting.

As a parent, I am not comfortable sending my child to Cortland Grade School. Luckily my child currently attends Malta Grade School. I wonder though, that if this issue isn’t resolved by next fall, how this could affect matters as the district plans to close Malta and Tyler schools.

With so many questions left unanswered, perhaps the school should remain closed until these questions are answered and a thorough action plan and policy can be put into place to assure parents of the safety of their children. Dr. Briscoe stated the safety of the children is his most important concern. Perhaps we should prove that and keep the school closed.


[1] Carman, N. Hydrogen Sulfide and its Health Effects – from oil to hog farms http://www.saboteursandbigoil.com/H2S_Health_Effects.pdf.

About Lisa Wilcox

Lisa Wilcox is an army veteran and owner/operator of Web Girl Consulting. Web Girl Consulting is a local website design and development company specializing in graphic web design and web hosting for your business or organization. I do professional, affordable websites and specialize services such as accessible web site design, graphic design, social media marketing, quick print solutions, web hosting, reseller, shopping cart programming and ecommerce websites. Web Girl Consulting is a leader in accessible website design in the surrounding Chicagoland area. Web Girl Consulting is Service Connected Disabled owned Business and is registered with VetBiz.gov. Web Girl Consulting is also State of Illinois Certified Female Business Enterprise and Certified Woman Business Enterprise with Cook County, IL.
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