Seven spaces at the Sky Valley Education Center in Monroe can reopen after recent testing found no detectable amounts of PCBs.

The five areas used by students, a storage closet and electrical room were closed Wednesday, March 1, in response to high levels of PCBs recorded by PBS Engineering and Environmental, Inc., during a routine check in December; 50 spaces were tested, and 43 came out clear.

The remaining results were presumably false positives due to mishandled samples. A retest was conducted in January, and again this month to make certain.

Had the partnering Environmental Protection Agency seen December's test results as legitimate, no one of any age would be allowed in the areas, “the numbers are so likely not accurate,” Monroe Public School District superintendent Dr. Fredrika Smith said previously.

PBS has regularly tested spaces at SVEC, an alternative K-12 school, since January 2016. The tests followed complaints starting in November 2015 from parents and students of illnesses they suspected were linked to contaminants in the buildings.

An outside company was hired to conduct the most recent round. Fulcrum Environmental Consulting, Inc. took the first air and surface samples on Monday, March 6. Some results were received by the school district on Friday, March 10, said district marketing liaison Erin Zacharda.

A container was dropped during the initial sampling in the Family Consumer Sciences room and the electrical room, according to a March 10 email from Fulcrum. The letter also listed two other reasons the samples should not be used, including a door and window that were each left open for an unknown amount of time. It was recommended the two consumer sciences areas remain closed until new samples could be analyzed.

Snohomish County Health District public and government affairs manager Heather Thomas said the partnering health district was waiting for the new results before reopening all spaces. Health district assistant environmental health director Kevin Plemel said all decisions regarding the spaces were made in coordination with the EPA.

In certain cases like that of SVEC's issues with air quality, the EPA has “a higher level of expertise,” Plemel said. While “ultimately we make the call,” it is important to also defer to other agencies, he said.

Replacement samples were taken on Tuesday, March 14, and the school district received the results back Thursday, March 16, Zacharda said. School spaces are not usually shut off during standard sampling, she said. Plemel said the health district chose to shut down the areas for safety purposes.

December's tests were some of the first following nearly $1.2 million in renovations completed at the school over the summer. Some of the upgrades were scheduled, and some were a reaction to water, air quality and asbestos testing done at the school in January 2016. 

The calking that was scraped out and replacement of light fixtures suspected of containing contaminants were recommended in a PBS report. The indoor air quality assessment concluded a combination of ineffective heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC), mold, chemicals, PCB-containing light fixtures, dust and asbestos were much to blame for the reported illnesses, as well as various other culprits.

Concerns were largely related to respiratory functions, such as sneezing, itchy and watering eyes, “much like a severe cold,” Smith said previously.

Nosebleeds, stomachaches and thyroid issues, as well as early puberty in students as young as 6 and 8 years old were also reported. Between 30-100 people reported health concerns, according to various reports from a parent, the partnering Snohomish County Health District and school district staff. More than 870 students attend the school.

No new symptoms have been reported this year, Smith said. 

The school district is following a multiyear abatement and mitigation plan at the school that includes measures recommended by PBS, such as improving cleaning, housekeeping, organizing, labeling and chemical storage methods, on top of the renovations that included switching out light fixtures and calking. The health district had also issued a list of remediation requirements last April, including age restrictions and access for pregnant mothers in specified areas.

School district assistant superintendent Dr. Justin Blasko said previously that other practices and policies were adopted, such as asking parents to turn off cars idling in pick-up and drop-off areas in close proximity to classrooms.

Two of the rooms closed down this month were used for learning purposes, Zacharda said. Staff moved things around to conduct courses in other parts of the school, such as the library, “as to not disrupt the learning environment,” she wrote in an email.