Chemicals a concern in 700 hall

The 700 hall may not have met health and safety codes since it opened in 2001, district officials have realized recently. Several new chemistry classrooms lacked eyewash stations, fume hoods, and proper ventilation systems. Students and staff members may have been exposed to harmful chemicals because there was inadequate ventilation and no chemical hygiene plan to dispose of outdated and degraded chemicals in those years.

Castro Valley Unified School District has spent about $600,000 to address these issues so far, according to Assistant Principal Matt Steinecke.

The problem of ventilation was discovered about three years ago. This year, the Science Safety Committee, composed of teachers Deborah Yager, Richard Schneck, Laura O’Brien and others, has been meeting and the school district has installed new fume hoods, purge fans, eyewashes, and improved overall ventilation.


Bad air out, then back in

Prior to the new recent changes, teachers had found that the ventilation system was inadequate in expelling the chemicals and bad air from the rooms and in bringing in fresh air. One of the issues was the exhaust vent. The vent on the roof of the building, which expels the harmful air, was only three feet away from the intake vent, which brought the fresh air in, so when the exhaust vent let out air, some of it went right back in through the intake to the students and teachers.

“The rules are that they either have to be a certain distance or height apart,” said Yager. “They needed to be made higher.”

Along with changes to the exhaust and intake vents, other safety codes had to be met. More classrooms were turned into chemistry rooms since the building’s construction, so they did not have the proper resources to ensure the safety of the students and teachers.

“If a student got something in his eye during a lab, he’d have to run across the hall to use another classroom’s eyewash,” said union president John Green.


Ventilation, safety improved

Fume hoods, purge fans, eyewashes, and showers were also added to three more new chemistry classrooms.

Chemical storage is also a problem. Mostly, chemicals used in labs were stored in back prep rooms; however, the vents weren’t purging the rooms. Almost all chemicals have now been moved to vented chemical storage rooms in the 700 hall.

“The store room’s air was being sent back into class where students were sitting and breathing,” said Schneck about room 760.

According to the California Building Code for an educational science lab, the rate of outside air coming into a standard sized science lab should be 246 cubic feet per minute (cf/m) and the minimum exhaust rate should be 1370 cf/m. In order to meet these requirements, the building has had work done over the summer.


State inspects building

The committee made the decision to call the Occupational Safety and Health Organization (OSHA) to see if the building was up to code. An OSHA inspector examined the building on Sept. 24 and has not reported his findings back yet.

“Employees can call if they’re concerned that the workplace is an unsafe environment and OSHA will come out and inspect it and talk to people to figure out if everything’s being done properly and safely,” said O’Brien.

Teachers have asked for purge fans in two more rooms. Although the committee and the district are still working to get the building up to code, significant progress has been made in the past six months.

Currently, Yager and Steinecke are writing up a chemical hygiene plan to help staff members to properly recognize safety hazards and violations.

“Recently, the district has done a good job of trying to meet the ventilation requirements for a science classroom,” said Schneck.

Evan Kwong

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