NJ parents alarmed over carbon dioxide in middle school; superintendent says the air is safe

MIDDLESEX, NJ —  Parents in Middlesex, New Jersey say they're scared their kids have been breathing in too much carbon dioxide in the classroom. But the school superintendent says the air is safe — and that the district is doing everything it can to keep it that way.

Many parents claim their kids are feeling unwell and they believe it's from breathing in unhealthy air.

"Headaches, nausea, he says, 'Oh, I’m going to throw up,'" said Fabiola Ramirez, whose son goes to Von E. Mauger Middle School.

Many parents even kept their kids home on Tuesday and Wednesday.

A state report from September shows several classrooms in the school contained carbon dioxide levels above 1,000 parts per million, which is the healthy threshold.

The school superintendent said Wednesday that concerns were first raised in the spring and that’s when the work began to fix it, but parents are frustrated that they’re just hearing about the problem for the first time this week.

“She’s been having issues for the past year," said Sylvia Camacho, whose daughter attends the school. "She was coming home always with a headache, not feeling well, not herself. Very agitated. And it's really unfair that they couldn’t resolve the issues during the summer break.”

Dr. Linda Madison, the school's superintendent, called the fire marshall, a county hazmat team and an independent CO2 expert to the school Tuesday. She said all three found nothing dangerous.

Madison said a separate company was at the school Wednesday to test every space in the building. She said they did find four or five spaces with levels of CO2 at over 1,000 parts per million. Teachers in classrooms with higher levels of CO2 have been asked to open their windows.

“So how are they supposed to function and do their school work and test, when they are cold,” asked Camacho.

Every room in the school will be tested again on Friday.

“Students and staff were never in any danger," Madison said. "The health and safety of all students and staff is my first priority and we are doing everything we can to ensure all necessary repairs are done in a timely manner.”

The problem lies within the "univentilators" — or the air-ventilation units in the classrooms. The superintendent said parts have been ordered to fix them and every unit will be inspected and cleaned. An overhaul of the system is planned for 2019, but some parents say that's not soon enough.

“Close the school if they have to," said Ann Kleiber. "Fix it now.”