Crews install new systems at 2 Franklin schools that will alert them if harmful vapors are present

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FRANKLIN, Ind. — EnviroForensics, a group working with Franklin Community Schools, is installing vapor mitigation systems at Webb and Needham Elementary Schools.

The schools briefly closed their doors in March, around spring break, when concerning levels of the chemical compound TCE were found in samples collected from the air and below the floor.

“It’s going to completely resolve any possibility of a concern,” said Jeff Sewell, the district’s director of operations. “Again, I want to reiterate, we’ve done three rounds of tests that have showed no detection of anything of harm in the indoor air.”

The school district did test indoor air and sub-slabs in two phases in March. The district reported that data came back showing no detection of chemicals PCE, TCE or any other “chemical of concern” at either elementary schools. EnviroForensics did another round of testing on May 4 and May 5. They report out of the 17 samples collected, all came back either non-detect or lower than the residential sub-slab vapor screening level.

“The indoor quality at both schools has consistently turned non-detects on three different sets of samples,” Sewell said. “So that’s been great news for us. The mitigation system at this point is really just out of our desire to be proactive.”

The way this mitigation system works is through fans installed on the roof of the schools. Those draw vapors up through pipes to the fans. Then, the fans will vent them out of the building into the air. Sewell said the installation systems for both schools costed the district $469,000.

“The contaminants we’re talking about quickly degrade, they photo degrade and they also just disperse in the air,” Sewell explained. “They’re kind of harmless. It really doesn’t present any risk to anyone at that point.”

The district said the systems should be online by next month. Then, they will do one more round of testing before students and staff return. They add the mitigation systems will monitor the schools around the clock and notify district leaders if something goes wrong.

“We are going to do one round of samples just to confirm that the air continues to be non-detect,” Sewell said. “So remember, we’ve had non-detects across the board inside the schools already. We’re going to confirm that remains the case.”

Kari Rhinehart, a co-founder of the non-profit group If It Was Your Child, spoke to CBS4 after the tour of the installation process. Rhinehart helped create the group when her daughter, Emma Grace, died of a rare, cancerous brain tumor merely four months after being diagnosed. She attended Webb Elementary. The family lived two blocks south of the school.

“I think any step in that direction is a good step,” Rhinehart said. “I think that the school is doing the best they can with the resources they have.”

Rhinehart says this is not a solution to the full problem, despite the school’s best efforts.

“The school is treating the problem they have, but no one’s addressing where is the problem coming from thoroughly,” Rhinehart said. “And that’s beyond what the school can do.”

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