For the past month or so, fumes from construction at Bloomfield High School have seeped into classrooms on the north side of the building, causing some classes to have to relocate to the auditorium, gym or library on a semi-regular basis.
Parents and school board members learned at a school board meeting last month that the problem was caused by a gap between the new addition to the building (on the Belleville Ave. side), which is under construction, and the building itself. The gap acts as a chimney, efficiently delivering diesel exhaust from construction equipment and idling trucks right into classrooms.
The school and its construction manager thought they had a solution. Over the Christmas holiday, an exhaust fan was installed on top of the building to pull bad the bad air out. They even did a test, running the equipment and having the Bloomfield Health Department come by to take air samples. Levels of carbon monoxide and dioxide fell within acceptable levels. It seemed to work.
But when students returned to school this week, the fumes were back — and this time they were bad enough that even Trevor Weigle, director of health and humor services for Bloomfield, could smell it.
"Believe it or not, the human nose can pick up things at a much lower level than the instrumentation," Weigle said.
The problem, schools superintendent Thomas Dowd told us yesterday, is that the new fan’s intake hose — which was supposed to draw fresh air from outside and push it down into the crack — was actually drawing more of the bad air.
The new solution is to extend the hose and point it far away from the bad air.
How bad is the bad air? Carbon dioxide samples in the affected rooms have ranged from 300 ppm to 1000 ppm, although they are more typically in the 300-400 ppm range, health department officials say. OSHA standards permit levels up to 5,000 ppm.
On the other hand, said Weigle, "We don’t think any odors are acceptable. These things are destructive to the learning environment, absolutely." Carbon dioxide at these levels can cause headaches and light-headnesses and exacerbate asthma in certain individuals, he said.
"This cannot continue," Dowd agrees.
Although school and town officials are on the case, their communication with parents at the school has been practically nonexistent. Consequently, parents are fuming. And NJ.com’s Bloomfield Forum has become a hotbed or rumor and complaint on the issue.
The story was also covered in today’s Star-Ledger.