Cleaning the air at Houston Secondary School

Houston Secondary School shut down two school wings for a week because of air quality concerns, tested and proven later to be unfounded.

Houston Secondary School shut down two school wings for a week because of air quality concerns, but reopened them this week after rigorous testing confirmed no air quality issues.

After several teachers and students reported symptoms which they felt were more prominent in certain wings of the school, two classrooms and eventually both the Science and Art wings were closed down as a precaution for air quality, said HSS Principal Scott Jackson.

The wings were closed for a week, with classes held all over the school, including in the school foyer, said Principal Jackson, adding that the flexibility of teachers, staff and students, and the quick response of the maintenance crew was really great.

The school was reopened on Nov. 6 after testing by Pacific Environmental, Worksafe B.C., Northern Health and district maintenance crews showed the air was clean of contaminates, Jackson said.

“We never got an explanation why people were feeling ill, but we’re 100 per cent certain it wasn’t an air quality issue,” he said.

Gordon Wedman, Senior Consultant for Pacific Environmental, did the testing and gave suggestions about things that might together cause an air quality issue, though none was found at HSS.

He suggested mouldy food in lockers, excess fragrance, odours from p-traps of rarely used sinks and from infrequently emptied recycle bins and partially blocked air vents might cause air quality concerns, said Andrew Bond, Vice Principal of HSS.

And maintenance and staff have since addressed all five things, and have cleaned and disinfected lockers, floors, desks and walls in both wings, and run air scrubbers through the wings to clean the air, said Ed Hildebrandt, Supervisor of Operations.

HSS is now a fragrance-free zone – no cologne, perfume or Axe  can be sprayed – just as an added precaution, said Principal Jackson.

Now the wings are reopened, students are back in their classrooms and there have been no further complaints, Principal Jackson said.

“It’s unique and it’s at this point idiopathic, meaning we’re maybe not ever going to know exactly what occurred,” he added.