Pollution Worse in Portables

From: Robina Suwol
Date: 26 Jun 2003
Time: 06:39:09
Remote Name:


Pollution worse in portables
By Kerry Cavanaugh
Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 24, 2003 -
Portable classrooms have significantly higher levels of toxic chemicals than permanent classrooms, according to a
new state study that confirms what environmentalists and teachers have long suspected.
While both traditional and portable classrooms have problems with indoor air pollution and poor ventilation,
portables generated more complaints from teachers and were 10 times more likely to exceed health guidelines on
exposure to formaldehyde -- a suspected cancer-causing chemical used frequently in prefabricated bungalows, the
study found.
"The lesson is, believe the students and believe the teachers when they say they are getting sick from these
classrooms," Bill Walker, vice president of the Environmental Working Group, said Tuesday.
The high formaldehyde levels found in classrooms can contribute to cancer and pose a risk of eye, nose and respiratory irritation in children and teachers with asthma and allergies.
Some pollution could be cut by improving air ventilation, fixing water leaks and thoroughly vacuuming, according to
the report released Monday by the California Department of Health Services and Air Resources Board, which sampled
1,000 classrooms.
But in the future, schools should retire old portable classrooms and redesign bungalows.
State officials admit the report's findings -- part of a two-year study on health and safety conditions in portable
classrooms -- were no surprise.
"It's been an assumption for quite some time," said Gennet Paauwe, an air board spokeswoman.
Since the mid-1990s, state agencies have sent schools information on proper ventilation of portables, which now
number about 80,000 -- roughly one-third of the state's classrooms -- but have received little feedback.
The problem hit home in 1999, when six Saugus children were diagnosed with high levels of arsenic and cancer-causing
benzene in their blood -- a result, their physicians believed, of toxin-laden building materials in a poorly
ventilated portable classroom.
While Saugus Union School District officials said at the time there was no conclusive link between the illnesses and
the portable classrooms, the district did adopt a program to survey teachers and check environmental conditions in
Likewise the Los Angeles Unified School District, which has about 8,800 portable classrooms, has adopted a broad
health and safety inspection program to investigate environmental complaints in classrooms.
While the study found that half the state's portable classrooms exceeded health guidelines for eight-hour indoor
exposure to formaldehyde, and one-hour exposure levels were 10 times as likely to exceed health guidelines as were
permanent classrooms, some health officials downplayed the potential danger.
"Even though these levels may be higher than a conventional classroom, they probably won't pose a major health
risk," said Dr. Cyrus Rangan, director of toxics epidemiology for Los Angeles County Health Services.
"The more practical approach in this case is to have better ventilation," he said.


Last changed: March 14, 2006