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Odors Plague South Gate School : Health Study of Pupils in Industrial Area Ordered

September 28, 1986|LEE HARRIS | Times Staff Writer

SOUTH GATE — At the urging of parents, the Los Angeles Unified School District and the county Department of Health Services have agreed to expand a health survey to include children attending Tweedy Elementary School.

The school at 5115 Southern Ave. is in a heavily industrialized area and had to be evacuated in February following a chlorine spill at a nearby plant. Parents, staff and children repeatedly have complained about frequent noxious odors at the school.

In addition to the expanded survey, the parents asked during a meeting Thursday that negotiations with the City of South Gate be started to see if temporary bungalows could be established at a nearby park if the survey finds the school is unsafe for students.

The parents also asked that the possibility of leasing empty buildings from the nearby Downey Unified School District be explored.

Parents in the school, where 85% of the students are Latino, met Thursday in the school auditorium with various agencies involved with the school and the health survey.

The health department is currently conducting a survey of the health problems of school personnel--including 55 teachers, administrators and non-classroom employees. Four-hundred children and staff were evacuated from the school in February when a deadly cloud of chlorine gas drifted over the school after escaping from the nearby Purex Corp. plant. The accident sent 71 people, including 27 children, to hospitals with nausea and dizziness.

Survey Not Complete

Paul Papanek, chief of the health department's toxics epidemiology program, told the group that the health survey is not complete. "I don't have the results you want. We don't have the whole piece of pie yet," Papanek said.

But, he said, preliminary data has revealed no unusually high incidence of asthma or lung diseases. In fact, Papanek said there were "very low rates of lung diseases. We were very pleased with that."

He said he was not sure when there would be a final report on the survey, since more than 100 people must look at the data and analyze it before it becomes public.

Andy Cazares, Los Angeles School District assistant superintendent for the region, told the parents the district will cooperate with the health department in conducting the survey of students. Papanek agreed that the deparment would help survey the children.

A survey of the students had not been previously conducted because the district "believed it was more expedient to survey the staff first" and expand it to the children if a problem was found, said Jack Waldron, a spokesman for the school district.

Health officials suggested a student survey might consist of health questionnaires distributed to some of the 300 to 400 students at the school.

Assemblywoman Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) who had originally called for the survey of the school personnel, said she was "very irritated with all of this."

"We had our first meeting in April," she said. "Today we still don't have concrete information so parents and school officials can make some sound decisions."

Wrong Place for a School

Waters told the gathering that she believes that "a school should not be in an industrialized area."

Later, in an interview, Waters said if the decision were left to her, "the school would be closed down. But this is not the decision of the parents."

After listening to complaints from various parents in the audience, Waters had advised them to take their desires to Los Angeles Unified School District board member John Greenwood, whose district includes South Gate.

Greenwood did not attend Thursday's meeting. However, Greenwood told the parents in June that the district will be moving the school about a mile south in the next three to four years.

Although a specific site has not been chosen, the school district is looking in the vicinity of Atlantic Avenue and Tweedy Boulevard.

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