Thursday, June 14, 2001

School addresses concerns over mold

By Lori Hayes
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        FLORENCE — A Boone County elementary school is getting a new heating and cooling system after at least four years of complaints from teachers about mold growing in classrooms.

        Work began last month at Collins Elementary on the $900,000 project, expected to be finished by the start of school this fall.

        District officials said the building had high humidity levels which led to some mold growth. But it was not a health hazard, said Operations Director Mike Hibbett.

[photo] Pipe fitters disconnect a ventilating unit at Collins Elementary, where a new system is being installed to reduce mold.
(Patrick Reddy photo)
| ZOOM |
        Mr. Hibbett pointed to three air quality tests in the past year that found no toxic molds in the school such as the potentially deadly “black mold” that closed down an Ohio school this spring.

        “It wasn't an issue healthwise,” Mr. Hibbett said. “We didn't do this project because of health issues. We're doing it because I think that's the best mechanical upgrade at this time, and it will solve the humidity problem as well.”

        State and national environmental officials have pointed to mold as one of the major health crises of the decade, as complaints of mold contamination continue to climb.

        Some types of mold can be deadly, and indoor molds can increase asthma and allergies.

        Reports of mold contamination in Tristate schools are also on the rise, with school officials in Sycamore, Milford and Dearborn County ordering schools closed temporarily this spring after discovering mold infestation.

        However, the mold found in Collins did not warrant shutting the school down, said Mary Malotke, senior engineer for TENCON Inc., a private environmental testing company in Milford that conducted air quality tests.

        Tests in July, November and March pointed to high humidity levels. Mold was found on ceiling tiles, ceiling pipes and even a book bag, but “no toxigenic fungi or molds identified in high concentrations” were found, according to reports by TENCON.

        Some molds carry chemicals that can be hazardous. Collins' tests identified about a half dozen types of mold, most of which were common molds found in the outdoor air.

        “They had stuff that would make people's allergies kick in,” Ms. Malotke said. “It's probably the same amount you'd find in your family room if you left the door open.”

        TENCON had previously tested Collins in 1997 and 1998, also citing high humidity levels and low levels of mold spores. Collins is the only school the district has tested for mold, Mr. Hibbett said.

        The district ordered those and this year's tests after Collins teachers complained of illness and problems with allergies. Some even reported skin rashes.

        But in all the tests, mold spores inside the building were “a fraction of what was found in the outdoor air,” the report stated. However, the building's lower-level classrooms had higher concentrations.

        “Because that school is set partially in the ground, it gets humid in there,” said Ms. Malotke. “That tends to sometimes get away from you. Anytime you've got something set in the ground, you have more moisture coming through the floors and the walls.”

        For example, R.A. Jones Middle School, next door to Collins, was built on higher ground and does not have similar problems, she said.

        Collins Principal Shelley Mayberry could not be reached for comment.

        TENCON also reported that classroom windows were open before the tests, and many of the classroom ventilators were covered with materials, obstructing the airflow.

        In March, the company recommended cleaning and replacing ceiling tiles as problems arise until new heating and cooling system could be installed.

        “If it wasn't kept clean, it would cause more allergies,” Ms. Malotke said.

        The project at Collins includes replacing ceiling tiles and the insulation on ceiling pipes.

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