Aspen High passes air quality test after reports of illness from students |

Aspen High passes air quality test after reports of illness from students

Jennifer Davoren
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Aspen High School passed its air quality evaluation with flying colors last month.

The evaluation, conducted by representatives of a Denver-based “industrial hygiene” firm, was requested by district officials after a few reports of illness among AHS staff and students. The complaints, which began not long after the start of classes in September, placed the blame on construction odors ? or “off-gassing” ? that permeated the recently completed addition to the school.

Andy Montoya, the school district’s construction representative for the AHS project, called in a specialist to study “the impact of the current construction activities on the air quality in the occupied portions of the high school building.” Peter Cappel, vice president of Gobbell Hays Partners Inc., an environmental evaluation company, was hired to manage the investigation.

Cappel conducted his study during visits to the AHS construction site on Oct. 9 and Oct. 15. During the first visit, he met with officials from project contractor G.E. Johnson Construction to discuss “how to best conduct … construction activities and how odors and vapors should be controlled.” Suggestions included relegating a number of activities to after hours, such as carpeting, painting and roofing, to avoid student and staff exposure to dangerous fumes.

“If the controls and work practices as described in the attached work plan are properly followed, airborne concentrations of chemicals used during the described activities can be maintained within safe levels,” Cappel’s report to the school board states.

Cappel returned on Oct. 15 to collect a number of air samples from around the construction site and occupied sections of the school. He tested for a number of harmful substances, including coal tar vapors ? an ingredient present in roofing material that reportedly caused headaches and nausea among some students and staff. He also canvassed a variety of other rooms, such as a widely used seminar room that several students said led to fume-induced illness.

Cappel’s monitoring turned up only “baseline levels” of these substances, his report states.

“The low levels of the chemicals measured on Oct. 15 do not represent a health concern to occupants in the new high school building,” his report states.

One reason for these low levels, the report continues, was the work plan suggested to construction officials.

“All the measures taken by G.E. Johnson over that long weekend worked,” Cappel told the board Monday.

Though Cappel’s investigation failed to detect harmful levels of construction fumes, Montoya suggested the rental of an air-quality monitor to assess AHS throughout the construction process. The school board agreed, recommending that the district rent the apparatus from Cappel directly for Montoya’s use.

Montoya also reported to the board that he should be contacted directly with all questions regarding construction odors or complaints of illness. Written reports would be most helpful to construction personnel as they evaluate the school site, he said.

“If we see some sort of pattern developing, we need to address that,” Montoya said.

The general public can contact Montoya at his AHS office at 920-2844 or e-mail him at

[Jennifer Davoren’s e-mail address is]

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