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 Administration.
What Im hearing from the people that did test is there is no cause for concern at this point in time, said Laine Gibson, the districts 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 Walshs use of OSHA standards for children.
The exposure levels determined by the administration are workers standards and dont 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 said.
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, Talbot said.
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 Monitors 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, Gibson said.
Breech said, This conversation is far from over, but its happening. This is what needs to be going on where industry, schools and neighborhoods are coexisting.
email@example.com Herald Staff Writer Heather Scofield contributed to this report.