Inside: Mold

MOLD DISPLACES STUDENTS

The discovery of potentially hazardous mold in several facilities has been serious enough to force schools to relocate students until the contamination can be removed. Some recent cases:

  • In St. Charles, Ill., officials found dangerous mold in St. Charles East High School and closed the facility in the Spring. The school remains closed, and millions are being spent to remove the mold and fix the building. More than 2,000 students had to finish the year sharing space with St. Charles North High School. This fall, East's students relocated to the district's Wredling Middle School.

  • In Romeo, Mich., Washington Elementary School never opened this fall after mold was discovered. The school's 500 students were dispersed to other district schools; the building is expected to reopen in January. The cost of removing the mold has exceeded $1 million.

  • In the Los Angeles district, plans to convert a former office building into a high school faced delays after workers found a significant presence of mold.

  • In Overland Park, Kan., Apache Elementary School was closed in September after elevated levels of mold were detected. The students were relocated indefinitely to a vacant elementary school.

SCHOOLS OFTEN FERTILE GROUND FOR MOLD

Mold is found virtually everywhere, so no one should be alarmed to learn that it can be detected in schools.

Potential reasons: Many school facilities have a history of inadequate or deferred maintenance; often, in the building boom of the 1950s and 1960s, schools were built quickly with cheap building materials. In addition, construction practices in the 1970s through the 1990s “resulted in buildings that are tightly sealed, but may lack adequate ventilation, potentially leading to moisture buildup,” according to the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) document, “Mold Remediation in Schools and Commercial Buildings.”

Factors such as those above make some buildings more susceptible to dangerous mold growth. In addition, moisture problems in portable classrooms and other temporary facilities have often been associated with mold problems, according to the EPA.

To find out more on mold in schools, visit www.epa.gov/iaq/molds/graphics/moldremediation.pdf.

MINIMIZING MOLD

The Environmental Protection Agency offers tips for schools trying to reduce or eliminate mold:

  • Reduce indoor humidity. Vent showers and other moisture-generating sources to the outside; control humidity levels with air conditioners and de-humidifiers.

  • Inspect the building for signs of mold, moisture, leaks or spills. Check for moldy odors; look for stains or discoloration on ceilings, walls, floors and windowsills.

  • Respond promptly when you see signs of moisture or mold, or when leaks or spills occur. Clean and dry any damp or wet building materials and furnishings within 24 to 48 hours to prevent mold growth.

  • Prevent moisture condensation. Adding insulation reduces the potential for condensation on cold surfaces.

  • Maintain flooring and carpeting. Remove spots and stains immediately. Use care to prevent excess moisture.

A GROWING PROBLEM

One of the toxic molds found in schools in St. Charles, Ill.; Romeo, Mich.; and other buildings that have been closed for remediation is stachybotrys chartarum (also known as stachybotrys atra), a greenish-black growth.

  • Where it grows: Fiberboard; gypsum board; paper; dust; lint; other material with a high cellulose and low nitrogen content.

  • What helps it grow: Water damage; excessive humidity; water leaks; condensation; water infiltration; flooding.

  • What it can do to you: Allergic rhinitis (cold-like symptoms); dermatitis (rashes); sinusitis; conjunctivitis; aggravation of asthma; fatigue; inability to concentrate.

Source: Centers For Disease Control

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