School's dust may tell the tale

Dianne Knutson, an industrial hygienist with Prezant Associates, Inc., takes settled dust samples from a clock at the old North Whidbey Middle School. - P. Christine Smith
Dianne Knutson, an industrial hygienist with Prezant Associates, Inc., takes settled dust samples from a clock at the old North Whidbey Middle School.
— image credit: P. Christine Smith

An expert in the field of indoor environmental conditions took dozens of samples Wednesday morning at the old North Whidbey Middle School, in an attempt by the Oak Harbor School District to learn what, if anything, is present in the school that could have made people ill.

Dianne Knutson, an industrial hygienist with Prezant Associates, Inc. with offices in Seattle, Spokane and Mount Vernon, was armed with a full supply of Magic tape and Ziploc bags when she entered the school, escorted by a team of school district staffers. Knutson’s mission was to collect settled dust samples from the school building, which will be sent to a lab to determine the composition of the dust.

Knutson said the testing method is “very thorough” in determining what particulates are present in the air at the school. This includes mold, Knutson said, which some teachers who worked at the school think made them ill with respiratory infections, headaches and nausea.

Rick Schulte, superintendent of schools, closed the school site last month following staff complaints. The building was being used as an interim school site for Olympic View Elementary School, while that school undergoes a remodel.

Accompanied by two district maintenance department workers and a high school teacher representing the teachers’ union, Knutson collected the dust samples from classrooms where former occupants had complained of illness, several common areas such as the gym and the teacher work room, and from several rooms where suspected building-related illness does not appear to be a problem.

Although her tools seem to be simple, the Magic-brand tape and Ziploc bags are the method of collection preferred by the lab that will examine the samples, Knutson said. The zipper bags prevent contamination of the samples, and the Magic tape will melt away when the testing solution is added, Knutson explained. A microscopist will examine the samples and all results should be compiled by June 14.

The settled dust will provide a “historical perspective” of the air quality at the school.

“Taking air samples now wouldn’t give an accurate sample,” Knutson said.

You can reach News-Times reporter Christine Smith at or call 675-6611

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