The air around Sunnyside Elementary
is safe to breathe, according to the results of an air-quality test
commissioned by Durango School District 9-R.
The tests, conducted for 9-R by
Walsh Environmental Scientists and Engineers, showed that levels of volatile
organic compounds and other gasses in the air around the elementary were well
below the levels considered safe by the Occupational Safety and Health
“What I’m hearing from the people
that did test is there is no cause for concern at this point in time,” said
Laine Gibson, the district’s chief financial officer.
The district also will send the test
results to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment for further
verification, Gibson said.
Some, however, questioned Walsh’s
use of OSHA standards for children.
The exposure levels determined by
the administration are workers standards and don’t apply to more sensitive
populations like children, said Ruth Breech, program director for Global
Community Monitor. The nonprofit produced a report in July that found toxic
chemicals in the air around Sunnyside.
Exposure limits set by the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency, for example, are lower and better protect
children whose still-developing bodies are more sensitive to chemicals, Breech
OSHA exposure limits are set for
adults working eight hours a day, five days a week, said Collin Talbot, an industrial
hygienist with OSHA.
“Those numbers are set for the
average adult, so overall they are probably not a good indicator for children,”
Jacob Harris, an environmental
scientist with Walsh, said OSHA standards were used because they are based on
exposure over time. In its report, the company said that no further monitoring
was needed at the school, unless conditions changed.
Sunnyside is surrounded by
natural-gas production sites, with the closest well pad located across the
street from the preschool playground.
District 9-R hired Walsh to do the
test after two previous reports produced conflicting results. The first test
results were released in a May report by the U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency and found safe levels of air toxins around the school.
But Global Community Monitor’s July
report found four cancer-causing toxins in the air around the gas-production
facility across the street from the elementary. Two of the toxins were at
levels associated with long-term health risks to people who are exposed. The
report, Gassed! A Citizen Investigation of Toxic Air Pollution from Natural Gas
Development, was the work of a community-based pilot environmental monitoring
program. Mike Meschke, the environmental health director at San Juan Basin
Health Department, oversaw the air testing.
The Colorado Department of Public
Health and Environment found several technical deficiencies when it reviewed
the Gassed! report. Concerns included the size and duration of the air samples,
types of materials used and lack of meteorological measurements. Christi
Zeller, the executive director of the La Plata Energy Council, said the council
also had concerns with the testing methods. Zeller cited an extended gas
analysis by Williams Midstream, a natural-gas gatherer and processor, that
found several chemicals found in the Gassed! report were not detected in the
gas stream near Sunnyside.
In the face of such controversy, the
school district hoped its test would provide an independent set of results,
Breech said, “This conversation is
far from over, but it’s happening. This is what needs to be going on where
industry, schools and neighborhoods are coexisting.”
Herald Staff Writer Heather Scofield contributed to this report.