Hancock school board denies study request

NEW CUMBERLAND – University of Cincinnati researchers studying the health of East Liverpool area children say they’ll still try to include Hancock County children even without the cooperation of the school district.

On Monday, the Hancock County school board denied the researchers’ request for permission to contact first-, second- and third-graders and ask them to participate in the study.

Superintendent Suzan Smith’s recommendation was that the board turn down the request for liability reasons.

“We’re in the field of education, and I don’t want to get involved with something where they’re drawing blood, collecting hair samples and taking toenail clippings,” Smith said. “I think there’s another way they could possibly do this.”

The CARES research project, a collaboration between UC and Kent State University-East Liverpool, seeks to study the effects of air pollution on children’s health. CARES stands for the Communities Actively Researching Exposure Study.

East Liverpool was selected as a site for the federally funded study because of a 2010 report by the Environmental Protection Agency that found high levels of manganese in the area, said principal investigator Erin Haynes, assistant professor of environmental health at UC.

“Hancock County is near the East Liverpool area. We’re letting all children in the area participate – Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania,” Haynes said. “Children who are eligible and are able to participate – we will find another way to connect with them.”

Although she’s disappointed with the board’s decision, Haynes said, “We’ll move on.”

Haynes said the study organizers asked for permission to distribute a flyer to Hancock County students ages 7, 8 and 9 at their respective schools.

“The purpose was to give every student in the area an opportunity to know about the study. We were asking the school if it would be OK for our flyer to be sent home with students,” Haynes said. “It’s their decision if they want to participate or not.”

The study measures the presence of manganese and other toxins in the body through blood, hair and nail samples, Haynes said, noting that a certified phlebotomist takes the samples.

“We even ask if the child has lost a tooth recently. Metals go into the body and then come out – if there is an excess – in the hair or the blood or the teeth and nails. We need to have an actual measure of it in the body,” Haynes said.

Researchers are hoping to recruit 150 children for the two-year study. So far, about 10 children have enrolled, Haynes said.

The study also tests children’s ability to learn and coordinate their movements by engaging them in a series of “fun” activities, Haynes said. While the child is busy with the activities, parents are asked to fill out a questionnaire.

Participating families receive $125 as compensation for their time and travel expenses.

School board members said they weren’t opposed to the study, per se, just the researchers’ request for the school district’s participation.

“I applaud you for turning this request down,” board member Patsy Brancazio said to Smith.

“I think the parents are more inclined to make the decision based on what’s in the best interest of the children,” board member Laura Greathouse said.

The CARES project is being funded by a $275,000 grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, one of the National Institutes of Health.

To participate in the study, call Delores, the study coordinator, toll-free at 1-866-AIR-3299.

Also Monday, the board accepted a bid from Grae-Con Construction, of Steubenville, for construction work related to the renovation of science labs and restrooms at Oak Glen High School and Weir High School. The bid was $2,252,000.

Along with the new science labs, the work will involve making all the restrooms handicapped-accessible and refurbishing the Milton Weinberg Theater at Weir High School.

The bid was part of the fifth bid package to be advertised from the $37 million bond levy approved by Hancock County voters in 2010. Grae-Con also was awarded the bid to install the science labs’ new casework – lab stations, wall cabinets and shelving. Construction is expected to last all summer.

In other action, the board:

Agreed to purchase three new, 77-passenger school buses for $89,285 each from Heritage Truck Centers in Tulsa, Okla.;

Entered into a field base/clinical agreement with Franciscan University of Steubenville for student teachers;

Entered into a school psychology internship agreement with California University of Pennsylvania;

Approved the calendar for the 2013-2014 school year;

Recommended that the student transportation/passenger on school bus policy be revised; and

Accepted the retirement of Betty McGillen, director of Pre-K/Elementary Education/Title 1, effective July 1. McGillen had more than 40 years with the school district.

“You will be missed,” board President Jerry Durante said.

(Huba can be contacted at shuba@reviewonline.com)