LABRAE SCHOOLS Stench, alarms lead to pickets
The alarms sounded because intake tubes were plugged, not because of dangerous gas levels, a company official said.
By DENISE DICK
VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF
LEAVITTSBURG -- About 30 parents, children and residents picketed at Labrae High School this morning to show their concern for children's safety and what they see as the school district's failure to address it.
Residents living around Warren Recycling Inc., a landfill on Martin Luther King Avenue S.W., have complained for months about a foul smell wafting through their neighborhood.
The cause of the stench has been identified as hydrogen sulfide.
The company paid to have five monitors installed in areas of Warren Township earlier this month, including at Labrae High School and Leavitt Elementary School.
The monitors at both schools have sounded in recent weeks, and some parents are concerned that their children remained in school under potentially dangerous conditions.
Hydrogen sulfide, a colorless, flammable gas, smells like rotten eggs.
According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry's Web site, high levels of the gas may cause death.
Lower, longer-term exposure may cause eye irritation, fatigue and other symptoms, according to the site.
"Some parents are outraged," said Debbie Roth, leader of Our Lives Count, a group organized to address the concerns surrounding the odor. "Why does the superintendent think he can make decisions about our children's health?"
She said several people have reported eye infections.
Signs carried by participants this morning read "In God we trust, not poor leadership," "What does evacuate mean to you?" and "Stink Zone."
Today marks the last day of classes at LaBrae before summer recess.
Superintendent Ron Joseph said he also was concerned the first time the alarm sounded and notified MS Consultants, the Youngstown company that installed the monitors. The company checked the monitor and assured him there wasn't a problem.
"They ran all of the tests and said the damp weather could set them off," Joseph said. "They had no readings on them. How could I send kids home when there's no reading of anything?"
John Pierko, project manager at MS Consultants, said the alarms have sounded on four occasions. The causes were identified as lack of oxygen, not high levels of hydrogen sulfide.
The monitors are inside, but the intake tubes are outside to measure air. The first one went off at the high school May 14 when students weren't in class.
Rain had gotten into the intake tube that leads to the filter. The filter expanded, plugging the tube and preventing oxygen from getting to the meter, Pierko said.
In the other cases where the alarms sounded -- once at a residence and twice at Leavitt Elementary School -- wasps or bees had built nests in the tubes, preventing oxygen from getting in, he said.
The alarms trigger an evacuation alert, and Roth argues the company can't determine whether a dangerous condition exists before checking it. She believes students should have been evacuated as a precaution, then the monitors checked.
If a fire alarm went off or a bomb threat came into a school building, students would be evacuated and not returned to the building until the fire department determined it was safe, pickets said.
Pierko points out the readings are taken for air outside, not inside.
Lydia Burger, one of the pickets, says she just wants straight answers, and she doesn't think she's getting them. Her son just finished ninth grade at the high school.
"Hydrogen sulfide can kill you at high concentrations," Burger said.
'Dangerous health hazard'
Darlene Vasbinder said she participated because the community needs to be aware of what she views as a danger presented by the landfill.
Shirley Combs agreed. "No one is taking us seriously. This is a dangerous health hazard," she said.
The women lead the Downtown Leavittsburg Improvement Association.
Jessica Banks, who just graduated from Labrae, went up to the pickets this morning, inquiring about their goal.
"I didn't know anything about it at all," she said, adding she was sick during the middle of the school year but didn't connect it to the air quality. She now thinks it may be related.
Bernard Edenfield, president of the Labrae teachers union, supports parents' and residents' right to protest.
"We're all concerned," he said, adding the administration is doing everything it can to address the problem. To his knowledge, the monitors have never registered a reading of hydrogen sulfide.
"I know Ron Joseph, and if we ever got a negative reading, this place would be shut down in a heartbeat," Edenfield said.
The hydrogen sulfide levels recorded since the odor was identified last year have not exceeded what's deemed harmful by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and the Ohio Industrial Commission, officials have said.
"We're all on the same side, and that's the welfare of the students and everyone in the community," Edenfield said.