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November 19, 2004 - Dangerous Environmental Problems in Boston Area Schools

Ninety percent of Boston's public schools have at least one environmental problem that can trigger asthma attacks or allergies, such as a leaky roof, excessive dust, poor ventilation, mice, or cockroaches, according to a systemwide inspection done during the last school year.

Environmental problems, also including pest dander and mold, can severly aggravate asthmatic and hayfever-like symptoms, unnecessarily causing the sufferer discomfort and worse.

School officials say they are dealing with repairs individually, based on the severity. To fix all of the problems at once would cost about $200 million, and school officials don't think it's necessary to repair everything immediately, said School Department spokesman Jonathan Palumbo.

"We're doing as much as we can and as much as is needed to make sure schools are as clean and as healthy for kids as possible," Palumbo said. "If someone is hyper sensitive to a specific trigger that exists in the student's school, then we will work with the family to address it."

Besides pests and leaks, inspectors found visible mold growth, which often resembled black-gray powder, in about 25 schools and the need for a range of repairs, from replacing light bulbs to patching holes in walls, in 53 schools.

"We didn't see anything that would lead us to want to close a school," Shea said. "It's keeping up on all the small things that make a big difference, rather than waiting for one big thing for a massive intervention."

Parents and some educators say they're concerned and want to be sure the school system pays attention.

Bridget Hickson, whose 7-year-old daughter has asthma, said she's worried that the conditions at the David G. Farragut Elementary School near Brigham Circle could exacerbate her daughter's illness. According to the inspection report, signs of pests were found in 51 percent of the areas checked at the school. The building also had clutter and dust, which can worsen asthma conditions.

"A lot of parents don't know about all the different problems that we're having in these schools," Hickson said. "It makes a big difference for it to be known because it could save the health of a lot of children."

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