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Dust Blamed for Health Symptoms at Renovated Vermont Law School Building

Dust is the likely culprit behind the allergy-like symptoms experienced by students and employees in a newly renovated Vermont Law School building, school officials said yesterday.

Air quality tests conducted by Concord-based Scott Lawson Group concluded the eye and throat irritation that affected students, faculty and staff in the Center for Legal Studies most likely came from dust particles that included gypsum, fiberglass, quartz and plant material.

After a round of interviews with those who occupied the building , the building was tested for mold, organic vapors, formaldehyde and dust, Scott Lawson said. Only the last pollutant registered abnormal results.

The volume of particles was “greater than normal,” Lawson said, especially for a newly renovated building.

Lawson said that those allergens and irritants could have been tracked on peoples’ shoes as they entered the building, or could be left over from the recent construction project.

The building, which houses the South Royalton Legal Clinic and Environmental Natural Resources Law Clinic, opened to students and teachers in August after a $3.5 million renovation project. James May, the legal clinic’s director, closed the building indefinitely on Nov. 15, pending results of environmental testing.

“I think there are some people that are concerned health-wise,” said Carol Westberg, the school’s director of marketing and communications. “They want to be absolutely sure that everything’s OK.”

A cleaning company will go into the building next week to clean it “as much as it physically can be cleaned,” Lawson said, after which his group will run another round of tests. If the building is as clean as he expects, the occupants will be able to move back in shortly afterward.

School officials said students and teachers should be able to start using the building again in early January, before the new semester begins.

“Quite honestly, if it goes according to plan, it may be even sooner than that,” Lawson said.

Until then, though, the legal clinics that should be in the building have temporarily returned to their former locations, Westberg said.

“They’re back in their original spaces, and they’re going to stay there until everything’s clear,” she said.

Jon Wolper can be reached at jwolper@vnews.com or 603-727-3248.