On behalf of students and staff at Randy Smith Middle, Watershed Charter, Woodriver Elementary, and throughout the district, 10 parents testified to the FNSB School Board Tuesday, 10/19/2010 to request action to protect children and staff in district schools. They supported improving air filtration inside the schools and requested help in urging Alaska DEC to enforce existing regulations against violators of 18 AAC 50.110.
Read Dermot Cole’s FDNM: “Parents ask school board to address air pollution at Woodriver” 10/19/2010.
Listen to the audio of the 10/19/2010 testimony to the school board. (Testimony begins 11:40 into the recording.)
Five of the parents described impacts that smoke had caused themselves, their children, or both. A School District employee at Woodriver testified seeing smoke in the halls 1 to 3 days a week & about her son’s chronic bronchitis infections. As part of her job, she is required to accompany the children on bus and recess duty and related the complaints from the children about the smoke. She described her own health ordeal, including the loss of hearing in one ear due to a chronic sinus infection, likely need for surgery, and low blood oxygen levels which Dr (Richard) Raugust had diagnosed as belonging to those of a smoker. But the district employee explained, she’s an aerobic instructor & never smoked, just breathed the air at work.
A mother of a son with asthma at Woodriver spoke about how important recess is to every child’s social and learning development but expressed dismay that her son often couldn’t be allowed to go outside with the other kids due to smoke in the playground. She wanted the air quality to be safe and healthy at school, inside and out.
A North Pole father with two young boys said he may have to move in order to prevent further attacks of severe bronchitis like his sons both had last winter. He installed filters in his own home “as they should in the schools” and asked the district to “force the state to move on it.” He said current school MERV 3 filtration needed to be raised to HEPA.
The mother of a 9-year-old daughter at Woodriver made careful note of the fact that children are especially sensitive to air pollution and urged the district to be “proactive” and have the air monitored inside the schools.
Jerry Norum, former school district teacher, Assembly member, and City Council member, thanked the school board for their interest in the issue. He reminded them the district is the tenant of the borough buildings. He said, “The winds have changed direction. And I won’t say we’re in a state of confusion; its a state of reassessment.” Mr. Norum described his own bout of breathing difficulties caused by local air pollution. He said fixing the problem “takes breaking the inertia.”
A local nurse and mother of two children with reactive airway issues urged the school board to actively track lung problems, educate students about air pollution causes & effects, and highlighted that resources are available to help nonattainment areas. She supported better air filtration for the schools if an assessment showed it would effectively control the smoke pollution. She answered a question about Randy Smith, saying that it too has problems.
A Watershed mother held up a visual representation showing relative scale of emissions from an outdoor wood boiler (OWB) vs other sources of residential heating. She testified that OWBs emit 72 grams per hour of particle pollution. She also testified that she’d reviewed air quality data collected at Watershed using the RAMs trailer which showed 48% of the days measured were above EPA’s catagory of “unhealthy for sensitive groups” and that 65% of the winter days measured at the downtown station were “unhealthy for sensitive groups.” She asked the school board to recognize that all children are in the “sensitive groups” category. She referred to the FMH retroactive public health study 8/2010 showing significant increased rates of hospitalization during episodes of higher pollution in the community.
After the testimony, school board members questioned Superintendent Pete Lewis, new to town and the district this year. Superintendent Lewis agreed to get back to the board with proposals.