Tests Find No Major Air Quality Issues at Wildwood and Fort River Elementary Schools: Dirty, Blocked Vents Faulted for Carbon Dioxide Excess in Limited Areas

AMHERST –  Tests performed at Amherst’s Wildwood and Fort River Elementary Schools in April showed that both schools have acceptable levels of asbestos, bacteria, mold, and radon. 

The environmental consulting firm ATC Group Services of a West Springfield was hired by the district to test the buildings, following longstanding claims of poor air quality.  The Amherst School Committee is slated to discuss ATC’s findings at its regular meeting tomorrow (Tues. Aug. 14) which begins at 6 p.m. in the Amherst Regional High School Library. 

The ATC reports identified excesses of carbon dioxide, a gas breathed out when humans and animals exhale, in the K3 and G4 areas at Wildwood; and in the cafeteria and the K1 classroom at Fort River.  “Increase outside fresh air to those areas,” ATC consultants advised in letters dated July 2 and Aug. 7. The complete documents can be seen by clicking these links: Wildwood report; and  Fort River report.

The ATC consultants noted that there was dirt inside the drain pans and coils to the heating, ventilation and air conditioning units at the schools. The filters to the “mechanical units” it evaluated “were not fitted properly or were dirty.”  Several vents had classroom materials stored on them, and ATC recommended that vents “be kept clear at all times.” 

ATC noted water damage on some ceilings at both schools, along with “suspect visible mold on insulation that appears to be from pipe condensation.”  The consultants advised water leaks be repaired, and that water-damaged materials be tested for lead and asbestos, and replaced.

Nonetheless, the reports found that levels of asbestos, bacteria and mold were “acceptable,” or similar to outdoor levels and those found in typical buildings.  

At Wildwood, the carbon dioxide levels found by ATC ranged from 418 to 1,169 parts per million (PPM) with an “acceptable/outside” level of 1,011 PPM.  Wildwood’s K3 classroom exceeded that outside number at 1,030 PPM, while the G4 area had 1,169 PPM. 

At Fort River, carbon dioxide levels ranged from 455 to 1,053 PPM, with an “acceptable/outside” level of 988 PPM. Fort River’s cafeteria exceeded that number at 1,123 PPM, while Room K1 had 1,053 PPM of carbon dioxide. 

Carbon dioxide is a gas product of human and animal cells, which is released during exhalation.  Moderately high indoor carbon dioxide levels can cause headaches and fatigue, while high concentrations can produce nausea and dizziness, and may temporarily impair cognitive function. (See a related study here.)

Carbon dioxide differs from carbon monoxide, an odorless gas produced by fuel combustion. Carbon monoxide can result in poisoning or death at high levels of exposure. ATC tested the two school buildings for carbon monoxide, and did not detect it at either building.

This article may be revised or updated as new information becomes available. 



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