Monday, August 27, 2001

Teachers sue, claim mold led to illness

By Michael D. Clark
The Cincinnati Enquirer


        WEST CARROLLTON — Teachers in this community south of Dayton are filing a $6 million lawsuit today against their school district, claiming they have been injured by dangerous mold that also threatens the health of thousands of students.

        Three West Carrollton High School and Middle School teachers contend in their lawsuit, to be filed in Montgomery County Common Pleas Court, that some classrooms in the two school buildings are infested with dangerous black mold that has seriously sickened them and left them unable to teach.

        In their lawsuit, the teachers claim that school district officials have known since 1999 that water leaks at both the high school and middle school have led to the infestation of mold, including stachybotrys chartarum or “black mold,'' which is considered dangerous to humans.

        Discovery last school year of the dangerous mold led to the closing of dozens of classrooms in some Tristate school districts including Princeton, Sycamore, Milford and Lawrenceburg.

        In interviews with the Enquirer, the teachers also contend that the nearly 2,000 students beginning classes todayin West Carrollton's middle and high school buildings face a potential health risk from exposure to airborne spores from the black mold.

        But West Carrollton officials disagreed, saying students are safe because the district has repaired roof leaks at both schools, removed existing molds from water-damaged areas and conducted its own mold testing to assure a safe classroom environment.

        Veteran high school business teacher Carolyn McMillen claimed exposure to mold spreading from water leaks in her classroom has left her with a 25 percent reduction in lung capacity, chronic sinus infections and coughing, headaches, weakness, mem ory and concentration impairment.

        The 60-year-old Centerville resident, who has taught 16 years at the high school, said her symptoms “would go away when I left the school building.”

        Fellow plaintiff Toni Craig, a 52-year-old Centerville resident and high school English teacher, suffered similar symptoms and was angered by what she described as school officials' lack of response when she, and other teachers, raised concerns about mold-related illnesses.

        The third teacher named as a plaintiff is Susan Googash, 50, of West Carrollton, a math teacher at the high school for 17 years.

        The teachers' attorney, Robert Trainor of Covington, specializes in mold litigation and has worked with teachers and parents in both the Princeton and Lawrenceburg school mold problems.

        All three teachers are on sick leave from the district and two have been approved for disability leave.

        Symptoms of toxic mold syndrome can duplicate allergic and asthmatic responses in some people, depending on an individual's immune system. In other cases, they can expand into severe and chronic illnesses, such as severe headaches, shortness of breath, burning eyes, chronic sinus and respiratory infections, rashes, severe itching, dizziness, memory loss, concentration difficulties and fatigue.

        According to Dr. Richard Cutter, a Blue Ash internist who specializes in treating severe toxic mold syndrome, extensive testing shows all three teachers have been exposed to stachybotrys chartarum. He describes the educators as being “moderately to severely sick” from toxic mold.

        “I have told them to stay out of those buildings. I still have con cerns for the students still in those buildings,” Dr. Cutter said.

        But West Carrollton Superintendent Rusty Clifford contends that the district has acted swiftly on water leak and mold complaints in the past year, and that neither students nor faculty are at risk from mold exposure.

        He said the district hired its own air quality testing expert last spring, who found no health dangers. Regardless of those safe test results, he said, another round of testing will be done Sept. 10 to determine whether the most recent roof repairs and mold removal during the summer were successful in removing moisture and mold.

        When it comes to student and staff safety, Mr. Clifford said, “we have erred on the side of caution.”

        He said there were no reports of student illnesses last school year that might have been linked to toxic mold.


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