Guilford Central School reopens next week

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(Host) Children in Guilford will soon be back under one roof.

The town’s K-8 school has been closed since early October due to low levels of toxic chemicals.

VPR’s Susan Keese has more.

(Keese) It’s been seven weeks since a boiler fire spewed heating oil in the Guilford Central School.

Since then, disturbing levels of chemicals in the air have kept the kids out.

Classes have been held in the Guilford Fire House, the Grange, and in borrowed spaces in two neighboring towns.

The school is scheduled to re-open the Monday after Thanksgiving. The seventh and eighth grade returned on Friday.

John Gagnon is the Guilford principal. He says the chemicals in most areas of the school have declined to ‘background levels.’ That’s the amount you’d find in any random room sample.

(Gagnon) Except for the kindergarten. The levels of TCE in the kindergarten room continue to be slightly above background, and we do not feel comfortable with putting kindergarteners in the room until we’ve attained background levels.

(Keese) Levels of possible carcinogens in the school are well below safety standards for adults, and have been all along.

But in the kindergarten and two non-classroom spaces, they’re still higher than the state considers safe for children over long periods of time.

The chemicals are TCEs and chlorinated solvents used in industrial cleaning agents. Gagnon says it’s still a mystery how and when they were introduced.

The air quality hadn’t been tested before the fire.

(Gagnon) The data suggests that the TCE and the fire are interrelated, but we have not come up with any source for the TCE release, nor have we found any longstanding source for TCE. So we’re still befuddled by the whole thing.

(Keese) The school is working on improvements to its ventilation system, and will test again this week.

If the levels haven’t dropped sufficiently, the affected rooms will be closed off. And the Kindergarten will keep meeting in a local church while work on the problem continues.

Gagnon says the issue of air quality in schools is one that needs more public attention.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Susan Keese in Guilford.

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