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Parents skeptical of report on illness at Gaither High

They suspect harmful fumes are the culprit, but the report finds no link between some students' breathing disorder and a gym resurfacing in July.

Published November 6, 2003

TAMPA - The final report by an environmental consulting firm provides more questions than answers about what caused at least 10 Gaither High School students to develop a mysterious breathing disorder in late September.

Chastain-Skillman Inc. did tests for weeks before determining "there were no obvious indications of adverse indoor environmental quality conditions that would indicate a potential health concern."

The report finds no link between the illnesses and exposure to fumes from chemicals used to resurface a gymnasium floor at the school. Parents of the ailing children were skeptical of this conclusion.

After a Sept. 26 home football game at Gaither, seven members of the Starettes dance team began showing symptoms of the breathing disorder - tightness in the chest, dizziness, throat inflammation. Eventually, they and several members of the Gaither marching band developed a "stridor," a harsh rasping sound in their throats when inhaling.

Parents of the affected students developed their own theory about what may have caused the illnesses. They contend that during a band and dance camp in July, the Starettes and some band members were exposed to harmful fumes while practicing outside of the school gymnasium where workers were applying a new polyurethane floor.

"The key findings are there is no known cause at the school, and no known link between the polyurethane job and the symptoms exhibited," said School District spokesman Mark Hart.

The report states that "the amount of time between exposure episode (application of the gym floor finish) and onset of symptoms is inconsistent with a traditional acute chemical reaction episode."

In addition, Hart said, the workers who did the gym floor job confirm that the gym doors were closed and the air conditioning system was off.

Mariza Cona, whose daughter Kayla is one of the afflicted Starettes members, doesn't buy it. Cona said her daughter came home from camp complaining of the strong smell in the area where the Starettes practiced.

Through her own research, Cona also maintains that exposure to the caustic chemicals in the polyurethane can result in adverse reactions weeks or months after the initial incident.

In addition to Chastain-Skillman, the School District has asked county Health Department scientists to investigate. They have yet to issue any findings.

The next step, Hart said, is for school officials to meet with parents of the sick girls and Health Department officials.

According to the environmental report, the cause of the ailments may be found outside the school. Because the students are still having trouble breathing, "further evaluation by others with regards to the numerous possible causal factors outside the school environment" is warranted.

Cona just wants answers. "How I want it to end is that my daughter is healthy again. I want her to be healthy and to never get any more symptoms," Cona said.

- Logan D. Mabe can be reached at 269-5304 or at

[Last modified November 6, 2003, 03:47:10]

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