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Southwest Orange Thursday, Jan. 30, 2020 2 years ago

Reports of smoke near Water Spring Elementary raise concerns

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Orange County and the Florida Forest Service recently conducted an air quality assessment and compliance check in response to smoke around Water Spring Elementary.
by: Danielle Hendrix Former Associate Editor

The presence of smoke around Water Spring Elementary and surrounding neighborhoods the week of Jan. 13 provoked concerns from some residents and parents.

Yeskel Cortes-Larvenz, a parent at the school, posted on Facebook Jan. 15 regarding an abundance of smoke in the area due to construction. She added that it likely was unsafe for the children, especially those with asthma and other breathing problems. 

“Some of the kids have asthma as well and are being exposed to this,” Cortes-Larvenz said. “This can’t possibly be safe for anyone in that school or living around that area, and it’s not right that they have to deal with this due to construction.”

Some responded that they had been having trouble breathing in the area as well. Others said it’s a commonplace issue in a growing area where land still is being cleared.

Sean Gallagher, Orlando forestry district manager for the Florida Forest Service, said there is a burner adjacent to Water Spring Elementary. 

He added that the burn type was nonresidential land clearing for the purpose of development. Burning authorizations from the Florida Forest Service are required for agricultural, silvicultural, land clearing, pile and acreage burning.

Gallagher said the department received some smoke complaints Jan. 15 and the Florida Forest Service conducted a compliance check accordingly.

“While he was found to be in compliance with applicable rules and statutes, we did place a wind restriction on him that should keep the smoke away from the school, should he choose to burn at that location again,” Gallagher said. “This was the only authorization requested for that property since June of 2019. … It is possible that on that date, this burner was sending smoke toward the school. I would further say that on any other day, the smoke would be coming from a longer distance away.”

Orange County staff confirmed it had received some concerns about the smoke, and the Florida Department of Health in Orange County conducted a limited outdoor air quality assessment Jan. 16.

The resulting report showed the area’s humidity, particle count, carbon monoxide and general air quality levels all were within normal range.

“The air quality levels were within range, and they did not find anything out of the ordinary,” said Despina McLaughlin, public information officer for Orange County.

Particle matter includes dust, smoke, pollen, animal dander, tobacco smoke, particles generated from combustion appliances, and particles associated with small organisms like dust mites, mold, bacteria and viruses.

According to the Florida Department of Health, the Environmental Protection Agency “is concerned about particles that are 10 micrometers in diameter or smaller,” because these are the particles that can pass through the throat and nose and into the lungs.

A good air quality index level ranges numerically from 0 to 50, while the moderate level ranges from 51 to 100. A moderate range means the air quality is acceptable, but for some pollutants there may be a moderate health concern for “a very small number of people who are unusually sensitive to air pollution,” the report states.

Only the second play area at the school had a moderate level of 56 — other parts of the campus and the construction site received a good air quality index.

Michael Ollendorff, manager of media relations for Orange County Public Schools, said there was some smoke that the district’s office reported the week of Jan. 13. However, he said, there were no concerns as of press time.

“There were no issues on (Water Spring’s) campus during that time period,” Ollendorff said. “On our campus, it was just a smell in the air.” 

Ollendorff said there has not been any specific notation of smoke in the area around the school since that week.

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Danielle Hendrix was an associate editor for the West Orange Times & Observer, Southwest Orange Observer and OrangeObserver.com.

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