Lincoln County Public Health (LCPH) is opening an investigation into the strong odor that forced students and staff to evacuate Waldport’s Crestview Heights Elementary School last week.
“We’re trying to find the data rather than make assumptions on where we think it could come from,” Lincoln County Health & Human Services Public Information Officer Susan Trachsel said. “We are working with a lot of people to do that.”
LCPH said it is working with experts from Oregon Health Authority, Oregon Poison Control, Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Department of Environmental Quality, and the Environmental Protection Agency after receiving a report from Samaritan Pacific Communities Hospital in Newport about several people with similar symptoms reporting an exposure to odors.
“We will definitely be contacting families who were present at the ER to follow up like we normally do in an investigation.” Trachsel said.
The incident has forced various action and produced a series of communications to parents from the Lincoln County School District (LCSD).
In correspondence Tuesday from LCSD Superintendent Dr. Karen Gray, parents were notified of a situation concerning possible carbon monoxide exposure that resulted in emergency room medical attention for at least 14 students and the shutting down of the boilers to determine the source of the emission.
The school was closed Wednesday:
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This is an important message from Lincoln County School District.
Today is Tuesday, April 16th; it is 3:30 p.m.
Today at Crestview Heights Elementary School there were reports of an odor inside several classrooms again. The odors ranged from gas to diesel. As you know, we are working hard to try to find the source of the odor. Seven classrooms moved to the cafeteria while the fire chief and facilities managers checked the boilers and checked for CO levels. At around 10:30 the fire chief gave us the all clear and kids went back into their classrooms. Half an hour later 4 classrooms smelled something again and cleared the room to the cafeteria again. None of the CO monitors went off.
The hospital called us and we spoke with them. We learned that at least 14 children had parents take them to the ER in Newport to have their blood levels tested for exposure to CO and that some had levels from slightly elevated to elevated between a level 2 and 3. The hospital would not venture where the exposure came from. I called my staff together and made the following decision:
Starting this afternoon, Tuesday, April 16th, we will not run our boilers at Crestview Heights Elementary School or Waldport Middle School/High School. This is necessary to help learn if the boilers are contributing to the odor and if they can be blamed for exposure to CO. They will remain off as part of our Process of Elimination as to what is going on here. They will remain off between 2 and 4 weeks in order to give us the right amount of time to know if there is indeed anything wrong with our boilers. At this time we believe they are working well.
Parents, this is very important: The temperature in the schools will be cooler than usual. Please dress your children in appropriate clothing to accommodate for lower temperatures. If your child has a need for warmer clothing, please notify the principal and we will provide it. Staff, the same is true for you.
If we do not shut the boilers off we will never know. If staff and kids still smell noxious odors it won’t be from the boilers. We are also in the process of pricing and strategizing if there is any possibility of moving to electric heat. We just don’t know yet. The water at the schools is electric. The kitchen is electric. Only the heating/ventilation system is run on the diesel boilers. Space heaters (we will follow our space heater protocol) will be made available as much as possible. Staff, please just ask for one.
Dr. Karen Fischer Gray, Superintendent
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Correspondence dated April 15:
Dear Crestview Heights Elementary School Parents, Friends and Family,
We are deeply concerned with the events that have resulted in a mistrust of our ability to keep students and staff safe in our school. This year we had a boiler misfire that happened in late January, the noxious odor event from 4/2 and the event on Wednesday 4/10 of having the wind bring in more noxious odors. These events have resulted in mistrust and heightened concern about whether we, as the Lincoln County School District, are doing everything we can to address the issue. We are aware that caring adults have reached beyond our District to seek help in drawing attention to the problems we’re experiencing. The District is speaking with these people.
We want you to know that we are not in the field of education in order to cause stress or harm to children. That is the total opposite of why we work in LCSD. We care deeply about the health and safety of our children and staff. All of us are in education because we care about children. We want our teachers and support staff to be able to get back to the hard work of teaching your children. The following is a list of actions we have taken so far:
- We have worked with experts on Carbon Monoxide (CO), such as the Central Coast Fire Department, to give us clearance for any return to the building. The Fire Chief himself checked our classrooms and gave the OK to return.
- We have followed our safety protocols for evacuation and notification when a noxious odor is in the building.
- We have hired outside experts from PBS Engineering and Environmental Inc. (a nationally known expert in the field of environmental health and safety) and had an independent investigation from SAIF Safe and Healthy Workplaces – which was not initiated nor paid for by the School District. Both of these organizations conducted a thorough evaluation and testing of the building and the boiler, and have published those reports. (Full reports are on the website: https://lincoln.k12.or.us/our-district/public-reports/)
- We have had two staff meetings and one public meeting to discuss the findings of these reports and to address concerns.
- We installed 97 new CO detectors in Waldport Middle and High and Crestview Heights Elementary School. That is one CO Detector in every classroom. None of the CO detectors were triggered by these events and remained at zero.
- We have also contracted with Groth Gates to raise the stack on the roof of the boiler room 8 feet to get the smoke up and out of the area higher and faster. This hasn’t happened yet but we have contracted with them for the work already.
- We have had the boilers inspected by Tom Brown, the LCSD Boiler specialist. After the misfire, the jet and screen for the jet were cleaned out. The boiler was run to burn off excess fuel. The boiler was then taken apart again and checked to make sure the jet and screen were clean. The boiler was started up again and ran clean. After that point, every 10 days we are changing the fuel filters on the boiler. They have been deemed to be in good working order. They were in good working order on April 10th.
- I have personally met with Senator Arnie Roblan in order to introduce a state bill to require CO detectors to be installed in all schools with fuel burning furnaces. He was very positive about the prospects.
The next portion of the letter is very important because I want to demonstrate to you that we are not done with our investigations of this matter and that we are definitely moving our ideas forward in hopes of resolving this.
Some of the new ideas we have moved forward on and will move forward on are:
- On Thursday, April 11th, I called the Health Department requesting an environmental specialist to study the school to see if they can find anything else we missed. On Friday 4/12/19 we had a discussion with the Oregon Department of Education to request additional assistance from someone that is an expert in environmental evaluations. A list of professionals will be sent to the district by the state and we will then send the list of choices to a committee of parents that will select the final environmental services company and begin a new study. The district will pay for the study. Results of the study will be given by the parents with the district in the room and the meeting will be a facilitated meeting. We will need parent volunteers for this committee work.
- Beginning Monday, April 15, door use changes, parking changes and other ideas about how to control air flow from the outside will be set into place. This includes contacting service providers such as recycling, and re-fueling and asking them to reschedule their deliveries to a time when kids are not in school. This includes asking folks that drive diesel trucks to not sit and idle them on our campus, near our classrooms.
- We have already begun the research into possible electric heating instead of diesel. Boilers don’t come in electric run systems that can heat a building this size but we need to see what’s out there.
- On Friday April 12, we took 6 samples to test for mold. The samples have been sent away to a professional company for processing and the results will be back mid-week. We will report back on that to the school.
- On Friday April 12, our HVAC system expert, Tom Brown, checked at least 10 ducts for residual materials and found the ducts to be clean. We may be asking for more duct work to done as well. It costs $50,000 for all of the ducts to be cleaned.
- We will investigate using a flue checking device we have or whether we need to purchase something more.
- It has also been suggested that the district check the sulfur and nitrogen levels specifically in our studies (the PBS study did that, too) and we will make sure to do that. Sulfur was checked in the SAIF study.
- Finally, Facilities Director Rich Belloni called OSHA and requested Technical Assistance on this matter and they are very willing to help us. He also called the DEQ April 15 to do the same.
Our intention is to create a document that lists everything we have done so far, everything we plan to do and the results of that work and then communicate that with staff, parents and community in an attempt to better our communication.
Another important piece of information is that it is not an option to use natural gas in Waldport, which is why we are using diesel burners. Natural gas which powers steam boilers cannot cross the Alsea Bay Bridge. We will be investigating the use of electric devices for heat and will keep you posted on that result.
We all want this issue to be resolved so that parents and families can feel assured that it is safe to bring their children to our schools, and feel at peace. We know that is not where we are with many of our parents right now, and we want and need that to change. We can improve communication and one way to do that is that we will be improving our communication protocol when an evacuation occurs. We will do our best to send out mass phone call messages and will continue to post to websites and social media.
In closing, as your Superintendent, I really want all of our parents, students, staff, and community to know that we take student and staff health and safety very seriously. We will continue to try different options, protocols, procedures and investigations to try to determine where these smells are coming from and how to stop them. The facts are that your children have not been exposed to CO on a daily basis, we are not poisoning your children and the district is not involved in a cover up. That is unfounded. Everything we have done so far, including the reports we have received, are listed here and the report results are on our website. Transparency means a lot to us, too.
Keep communicating and we will continue to work hard to keep our schools safe for your children and our staff. We continue to service and monitor our boilers more often than ever before and to investigate other environmental issues that may be causing headaches, and alternate ways to heat our school. I would like to give a shout out to those of you who have reached out to support the district in its efforts.
Dr. Karen Fischer Gray
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Update from LCSD Safety Coordinator, Sue Graves:
Just before 10:00 this morning (4/10/19), the staff at Crestview Heights School noticed a strong smell of diesel in one section of the school (Hall B). In response, we evacuated students over to Waldport High School and called the fire department. The smell dissipated after about 10 minutes.
At about 10:50, Fire Chief Gary Woodson gave the all clear for students and staff to return to Crestview Heights School. Our facilities manager, Tim Kaufman concurred with the Chief’s assessment for students to return to the building.
Fire Chief Gary Woodson believes that the smell originated from the Waldport High School boiler. He said, “Winds were out of the west. As the boiler [at Waldport High] kicked on, and the exterior door at Crestview was open [due to students going to/from recess], it is possible the fumes got in the building.” Chief Woodson said that the fire department checked the school and used their gas meters to determine there was “zero carbon monoxide in Crestview Heights or even around either boiler room.” He also checked the boiler room at Crestview Heights School, and it was not involved in this incident.
Our Superintendent, Karen Gray, also came to the school to assess the situation with the boilers with our Facilities Manager, Tim Kaufman. Our Facilities Manager proceeded to do a check of the boiler at Waldport High and determined it is in good working condition. None of the 97 installed CO monitors alerted.
By about 11:00, our students and staff were back in the Crestview Heights building. We are proud of our staff and students for quickly following evacuation procedures. We are thankful for Chief Woodson’s quick response. Chief Woodson said, “We’re happy to help wherever we can.”
“Superintendent Gray said, “ I am so proud of the way that the students and staff at CVH followed our procedures and quickly evacuated the school to the high school. Both administrations cooperated very well and the students were kept safe while the district and fire department investigated. Our boilers are in good working condition”.
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All students have been safely evacuated to the Waldport High School due to smell. The fire department is on the scene at this time. More updates to follow.’
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If people have questions about any potential exposures to toxins can call Oregon Poison Center at 1-800-222-1222.