FRANKLIN, Ind.—Students will return to class Monday at two Franklin elementary schools following testing of the air and sub slab for any concerning chemicals. Friday, Franklin Community Schools said data provided strong evidence the air in the schools is safe.
It comes after the district closed Webb and Needham Elementary schools after receiving testing results from below the concrete floor showing some samples exceeding screening levels for the chemical compound, TCE.
“I think parents want like a guarantee. How do we know that our children are safe?” parent Raquel Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez said she doesn’t feel safe sending her child back and plants to pull them out of school to home school.
“I kind of feel like it’s too little too late,” Rodriguez said. “It just seems strange that they shut down the school to do this testing, yesterday they said oh we're finalizing decisions, and then today it's all clear.”
The school district said transparency is its goal, and shares everything they have with parents and the community.
“I would just say to trust the school board and trust the administration that they are really concerned,” parent Jamie Green said.
For others, the results were a relief and offered a sense of safety in sending kids back.
“I was grateful that they’re doing the testing and that they’re being so transparent and just relieved as well that the air quality is okay and that they can go back to school,” Green said.
Franklin Community Schools has partnered with the company EnviroForensics since the summer following concerns about contamination in the area.
In August, 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.
The school district had follow up testing done in early March. Sub-slab vapor samples were taken and the results were released last week. 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.
Starting last weekend, EnviroForensics samples the indoor air. The district released the results Friday.
“Franklin Community Schools has had extensive conversations with environmental experts including EnviroForensics, the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM), Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The data, including all 44 indoor air samples showing no detections, provides strong evidence the air in the schools is safe. Franklin Community Schools looks forward to welcoming students and staff back from Spring Break on Monday, April 1st,” the district said in a statement.
FCS said the results of all 44 indoor air samples from Webb and Needham Elementary schools showed no detection of PCE, TCE or any other chemical of concern.
Sub-slab samples were also taken again. At Needham Elementary, all 10 samples were below IDEM screening levels. One sample tested for TCE at 30.6 micrograms per cubic meter and another at 19.9 micrograms per cubic meter. The residential sub-slab vapor screening level for TCE is 70 micrograms per cubic meter. At Webb Elementary five samples came back below the screening level and two were above the screening level for TCE. One was at 97.8 micrograms per cubic meter and another was at 105 micrograms per cubic meter.
EnviroForensics also sampled floor drains. It said one air sample from a floor drain at Webb Elementary detected a low level of PCE significantly below IDEM screening levels. All other drains were non-detect.
Before specific results were released, the Indiana Department of Environmental Management released the following statement:
“Based upon our discussions with the school, and understanding that IDEM has not seen nor reviewed the data regarding the indoor air samples at Webb and Needham Schools, we understand that all the data points came back below detection limits. This means the data are below IDEM’s Indoor Air Action Levels that compel immediate action, they are below the Indoor Air Screening Levels that compel additional investigation or optional mitigation, and they are below the laboratory detection limits meaning no concentrations of chemical vapors could be found within the air. This indicates there is not a problem in the indoor air at either of the schools. It further indicates that the school concrete slabs overlying the chemical vapors are impeding the movement of these vapors into the indoor air. However, as is routine whenever chemical vapors are present under an inhabited structure, IDEM recommends additional sampling during the next worst case sampling season (summer 2019). Those results will provide greater certainty regarding indoor air during summer time conditions. IDEM anticipates receiving the full data packages for a more complete assessment.”
The school district said “FCS remains committed to ensuring student and staff safety by taking proactive steps to address contaminants under the slabs. This issue can be remedied with the preemptive mitigation step of installing a sub-slab depressurization system.”
The district is also planning another monitoring event before the end of the school year to confirm the air remains safe.
“I'm glad they're taking the quote unquote preemptive mitigation activities or they will be doing that it's a good step towards fixing the problem,” parent Belinda Velasquez.
She said she plans to send her child back to Needham on Monday, but only because she has no other choice. For her, the results earlier in the month brought back tough memories. Her teenage daughter finished treatment for leukemia last year.
“We still need answers and we need year-round testing to really figure out what's going on,” she said.
The community group If It Was Your Child, formed by parents of kids who have battled cancer, is pushing for more continuous testing at the schools and further testing in the community. The group released this statement Friday:
“Obviously, non detect results are the ultimate goal and we are glad that the school went above IDEMs initial recommendations and decided to do additional testing. With that being said, it is very concerning that the very agency that decided to go against their own protocols will be continuing to advise the FCSC. With the subslab numbers what they are and receiving non detects we understand the continued concern of parents and residents alike. Those numbers are there and they are volatile, changing day to day. While simultaneous monitoring, SUMMA cannister averages can show a non detect and real time continuous Gas chromatography can show specific, real time spikes. Real time monitoring and the indoor mitigation system placed will be a positive step forward for placing parents at ease and answering questions."
FCS said consults with multiple agencies, including IDEM, the EPA, ATSDR and EnviroForensics. The district said it will continue to rely on recommendations from experts to guide it through testing and preemptive mitigation.
FCS is expected to hold a news conference Monday.