Franklin Schools to sample indoor air after environmental testing results at elementary schools

FRANKLIN, Ind. — Franklin Community Schools is working to investigate further after results from environmental testing at two elementary schools prompted the school corporation to keep kids home before starting spring break.

The results showed higher levels of the chemical compound TCE, which according to the U.S. EPA is a toxic chemical with human health concerns, in some of the samples at Needham and Webb Elementary schools.

“We’re not gonna put kids in harms way, we’re not gonna put faculty in harm’s way,” Franklin Community Schools Superintendent Dr. David Clendening said.

The schools partnered with the company EnviroForensics to conduct testing in August 2018 following nearby contamination concerns. They took ambient air, soil gas and sub-slab vapor samples. The company said while the results indicated the presence of TCE and PCE in the subsurface of the properties, the results were below screening criteria and there was no threat of an indoor air problem at the time.

“State risk assessors agreed, and they recommended that no further sampling would be necessary,” EnviroForensics wrote in a statement.

But because the potential for vapor intrusion can change seasonally, the school corporation wanted a follow up. EnviroForensics took samples again earlier this month.

I would tell everyone in our community that we're gonna look out for their best interest,” Clendening said.

Crews took vapor samples from beneath the concrete floors. EnviroForensis said the conservative sub-slab vapor screening level for TCE is 70 micrograms per cubic meter for a residential occupancy scenario.

At Needham Elementary, 2 out of 10 samples tested above that at 96.2 and 100 micrograms per cubic meter.

At Webb Elementary 3 out of 7 samples tested above the screening level at 225, 242 and 849 micrograms per cubic meter.

After receiving results, the schools kept students home for an e-learning day Thursday before starting spring break Friday.

“Given the large size of the Needham and Webb buildings and the proactive ventilation measures already implemented at the schools it's uncertain if indoor air has been adversely impacted,” said Jeff Carnahan, the president of EnviroForensics.

Now the company will test the indoor air at the schools. They’re also going to work with the City of Franklin to study vapors in the sewer backfill and sewer pipe in the city right of way west of Eastview Dr. near the schools.

“We'll be looking at that to see if we can identify some sources that may be contributing to the results we're seeing in the sub slab samples beneath the schools,” EnviroForensic’s CEO Steven Henshaw said.

The community group “If It Was Your Child” has advocated for further environmental testing throughout the area, driven by concerns about contamination and the number of pediatric cancer cases in Johnson County.

“My first reaction was just, it was gut-wrenching,” co-founder Kari Rhinehart said.

She lost her daughter, Emma Grace, to a brain tumor. So getting the results from the schools was hard to hear.

“It is so bittersweet because obviously you don't want to see these levels where kids are learning seven hours out of their day at just susceptible ages but at the same time we're glad they did the testing and we're hoping that this is a push forward,” co-founder Stacie Davidson said.

The Indiana Department of Environmental Management said it is in conversation with officials at Franklin Community Schools.

The U.S. EPA released this statement:

EPA has been in frequent communication with the Indiana Department of Environmental Management on this issue. EPA hasn’t had an opportunity to review the school’s sampling data, but has discussed appropriate next steps with IDEM and has offered to provide technical assistance as needed. We stand ready to support the state and their efforts.

Since last August, EPA has been coordinating with IDEM and the City of Franklin to respond to environmental concerns in Franklin and Johnson County, Ind. Throughout EPA Region 5 and across the country, states like Indiana effectively manage environmental issues in their states. EPA and its state partners decide how to best approach individual issues. In Franklin, IDEM has identified several sites and is responding through its State Cleanup Program. EPA’s current efforts in Franklin are focused on the Amphenol site, which is being cleaned up under the authority of the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.

The school corporation hopes to have results from indoor air sampling at the schools next week.

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