Pollen report suspended pending additional training

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FARMINGTON – The hospital’s laboratory has suspended reporting the pollen and mold count readings beginning today due to a perception by its staff and a community member that the readings may have been inconsistent.

Franklin Memorial Hospital’s medical laboratory has been providing pollen and mold count level reports for the community as a public service since May 27. At the same time each day, a sampling of airborne pollens and molds was taken from two small rods posted on the hospital’s roof and read under a microscope by one of the hospital’s lab technologists who were all trained by a member of the Climate Change Institute at the University of Maine last spring. The daily findings were sent to the institute as were others as part of a study conducted around the state.

Pollens are released into the air by various flowering trees, shrubs and grasses at different times throughout the growing season. Exposure to pollen and molds are known to increase asthma symptoms and trigger hay fever or seasonal allergy symptoms. Common symptoms include sneezing, runny nose, nasal congestion, coughing and itchy, watery eyes.

The idea of the daily pollen report was to give a heads up to those who suffer from asthma and allergies and will allow them to adjust their medications as needed.

The problem, said Suzanne O’Brien, FMH laboratory director, was that there was concern over the accuracy of the report. “There were too many variables within the staff readings,” she said.

One Daily Bulldog reader, Larry Kuenning wrote, in part, on Oct. 10: “This is the second highest ragweed count you’ve shown for the entire season (73 on Oct. 6; the highest was 85 on Aug. 19). Most of the ragweed counts in between have been too low to be credible, compared to my symptoms, and this one is too high. I’ve put off commenting on the ragweed figures, which all along seemed too low, but this sudden spike on Oct. 6 is just too bizarre to ignore.”

Kuenning’s comments did figure into the decision to discontinue the report, which was scheduled to run until Nov. 1, but O’Brien said it was her staff who were most concerned about the consistent accuracy of their readings.

“There is a judgement that needs to be made when looking at the sample under the microscope,” O’Brien said, “and there are five to six different people conducting the test on different days. We don’t feel confident in the accuracy based on the education we’ve received,” she added.

“As a technical department we need to feel confident our findings are consistent. Even though they said we were fully trained we need more education and training to give the most accurate findings is what is best for the community,” she said. She added she is requesting more training be held for her staff and would like to restart the pollen report next April – just in time for the next allergy season to begin.

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