A Growing Threat

Schools across the nation have something in common — and it's not good.

Consider:

  • A Detroit-area school district reopened an elementary school in February after it was closed due to concerns about black mold. The bill for cleanup came close to $2 million.

  • An Overland Park, Kan., elementary school closed last September after elevated levels of mold were discovered.

  • A former student is suing South Dakota State University over black mold on the school's Brookings campus.

  • An Indianapolis high school was closed after flu-like symptoms were reported in 330 of the school's students. Mold remediation began in February.

  • Discovery of mold buildup in two Chicago-area schools has led to closure of the buildings and a huge cleanup bill. At one school, the tab is projected to top $14 million.

The presence of toxic mold in school buildings seems to have become a regular occurrence. And the potential cost, time and energy required to identify, test and remediate mold in schools could end up being far greater than what it took to address asbestos, lead, radon and other environmental challenges that have plagued education institutions over the years.

It is estimated that about half of the nation's more than 115,000 public and private schools have indoor air quality (IAQ) problems. Common causes of IAQ problems include poor ventilation; inadequate cleaning and maintenance; and failure to control temperature, humidity and moisture — all common contributors to mold growth.

Mold in schools is attracting a lot of attention — and money — at local, state and federal levels. For example, over the next three years, the Austin (Texas) School District will spend a minimum of $12 million on mold cleanup in eight schools. Broward County, Fla., schools spent $44 million on its multi-year war on mold, which is blamed for widespread illness among students and staff at numerous schools.

The federal government is getting involved as well. When Congress passed President Bush's “No Child Left Behind” education bill, an amendment called the Healthy Schools and High Performance Act was included. As one of 20 programs that make up the Fund for the Improvement of Education (FIE), it will share $550 million annually to help improve the energy efficiency of school buildings and promote healthy indoor environments.

One helpful resource is the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's publication “Mold Remediation in Schools and Commercial Buildings” (www.epa.gov/iaq/molds/graphics/moldremediation.pdf).

SCORECARD

58,000

Approximate number of public and private schools that have indoor air quality problems — more than half of these problems have been linked to mold and mildew.

30 TO 50

Percent ideal relative humidity to be maintained in a building to prevent the growth of mold.

10 MILLION

Number of school days American students miss each year because of asthma.

$550 MILLION

Amount provided annually for the federal Fund for the Improvement of Education (FIE), of which the new Healthy Schools program is included.

48

Number of hours that wet or damp spots in a school building should be cleaned or dried within before conditions for mold growth become ideal.

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