Report details response to Lakewood Elementary internal air quality incident

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As a follow up to internal air quality (IAQ) concerns at Lakewood Elementary that resulted in the evacuation of students and staff, the following overview is provided regarding the district’s response to the campus.

Root Cause
District staff determined that an owl blocked a vent stack on the roof from properly exhausting fumes from the boiler.  This caused fumes to back up into the boiler room and further into the building.

Response
On Monday, March 2, approximately 11 individuals-which include students and staff (about the usual number) went to the school clinic with various complaints. As it is still cold and flu season, it was difficult for the school nurse to pinpoint a particular cause for their symptoms at that time.

Toward the end of the school day, the nurse determined that there could be an issue with the art room since two art teachers had reported not feeling well—one earlier in the day and one later. At that time, she notified the principal of her concern that there may be an air quality issue near the art room. At about 6 p.m., the principal spoke with the district’s executive director of maintenance, whose child also attends Lakewood Elementary, about air quality concerns. He personally inspected the facility and did not notice anything obvious nor was there anything that could be detected by sight, sound or smell. It should be noted that the boiler was off at that time. He pledged to have the district’s Environmental Services team report to the school the next morning.

At approximately 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday, March 3, Environmental Services (EHS) arrived at the campus to address IAQ concerns in and around the art room located near the front of the building.  Terracon, Inc (air quality consultant) arrived shortly after to begin monitoring air quality throughout the building.  Terracon detected elevated readings for carbon monoxide in various areas.  Based on these readings and staff concerns, a recommendation was made by campus staff to evacuate the building.  After evacuation and response by Dallas Fire Department, the building was vented and the primary cause was narrowed to the boiler room.  Atmos Energy turned off gas to the building and HVAC checked all equipment for leaks.  After discovering and removing the blockage in the vent stack (around noon), the gas was turned on and Terracon again re-checked the campus for elevated carbon monoxide readings.  Those readings were in the proper range throughout the building.

On Wednesday, carbon monoxide levels were checked in each classroom prior to 6 a.m. At that time, there was no carbon monoxide detected at any place within the school and parents were notified that school would be held.

Shortly after 6, after the boiler was fired, carbon monoxide levels were checked again. While there was no carbon monoxide detected in classrooms,  elevated levels were found in the boiler room. Shortly after 7 a.m., as a precautionary measure, the decision was made not to hold classes at Lakewood on Wednesday.

Corrective Action and Follow Up:
Industrial fans were delivered to the campus on Tuesday to assist in venting and a carbon monoxide data logger was left on site near the primary source area (art room/boiler) to continue to monitor.

District maintenance crews were able to identify and isolate the source of the carbon monoxide on Wednesday. It appears that when the owl became trapped in the boiler and the carbon monoxide evacuation system failed, excessive heat was generated. This, in turn, caused the boiler to overheat and fail and emit carbon monoxide fumes. The district repaired the boiler today and is installing a carbon monoxide detector this evening to be tied to the boiler. This will be in place prior to school tomorrow. The boiler will automatically shut off if it reaches the limit for carbon monoxide.

While what happened at Lakewood is a very rare occurrence, the district is strongly considering adding similar monitors to all district schools.​

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