Mold Issues at Manchester Elementary School
Mold Issues at Manchester Elementary School
Recent articles have described mold contamination in Manchester elementary school in Maine. Moisture intrusion in the basement was identified in late October and an air quality consultant was hired to conduct a mold investigation. The results of testing conducted on November 3rd indicated that several classrooms had elevated levels of mold spores.
At least 1 student complained of symptoms, which could be related to mold exposure. A first grade girl experienced coughing, headaches and wheezing since September. She had chest X-rays and was prescribed multiple antibiotics. However, there has been no official diagnosis from a pediatrician, and a definitive link to the mold exposure had not been made.
An important aspect of the story is that the parents were not initially informed of the mold contamination. A letter to parents from the superintendent described dusty conditions and poor air quality but not mold. The school went ahead with a remediation of certain affected areas. Parents learned of the mold contamination later and expressed their ire over the lack of communication. Additional testing was requested.
I’m not sure what the school’s motive was for not informing the parents early on. Maybe the school thought they would quickly address the issue and move on. However, I believe the school’s plan to limit transparency backfired. As a result, parents started to mistrust how the school was handling the situation and requested town hall meetings. The source of the moisture intrusion is not clear from the articles. It is important that following a moisture intrusion event or a flood, the affected area is properly dried out including stopping the source of moisture within 48 hours or mold growth may occur. Moisture intrusion can occur from leaking or damaged pipes, rain events or sewage back up, for example.
Mold Symptoms & Health Effects
Exposure to mold or dampness may cause a range of health effects, or no effects at all. Some individuals are more sensitive to molds. For more sensitive people, molds can result in nasal stuffiness, throat irritation, coughing or wheezing, eye irritation, or, in some instances, skin irritation. Individuals with known mold allergies may exhibit more severe reactions. Immune-compromised individuals and those with chronic lung illnesses, such as obstructive lung disease, may sustain severe infections in their lungs when they are exposed to mold. These individuals need to be restricted from entering areas with possible high mold levels such as compost piles, cut grass, and wooded areas.
In 2004 the Institute of Medicine (IOM) determined that there was an association between indoor exposure to mold and upper respiratory tract symptoms, cough, and wheeze in otherwise healthy people; with asthma symptoms in people with asthma; and with hypersensitivity pneumonitis in individuals susceptible to that immune-mediated condition. The IOM also reported limited or suggestive evidence linking indoor mold exposure and respiratory illness in healthy children.
The more children that exhibit symptoms indicative of mold exposure the stronger the link is to the incident in the school especially if those children were located in the mold affected classrooms. Also if the symptoms subside when the children are away from the exposure either in a non affected part of the school or when they are home, could indicate that their symptoms are linked to mold exposure. One student exhibiting symptoms may be reported as an isolated incident.
Children may be more vulnerable and exposure to mold may decrease their immune system and place them at risk for colds or the flu.
There are currently no federal mold regulations. Mold investigations need to be conducted by highly experience industrial hygienists preferably a certified industrial hygienist (CIH) or a certified indoor air quality professional (CIAQP). There are number of strategies for conducting mold testing. One common method involves a spore trap sampling where a 5 minute high flow (15 liters per minute) sample is collected in the area in question and compared to a reference sample usually an outdoor sample. Mold concentrations and species profiles are compared and evaluated.
In conclusion, it’s important to conduct routine inspections of school facilities to prevent environmental issues from occurring including mold contamination. One protocol commonly used for regular walkthrough school inspections is EPA’s Tools for Schools. Any moisture issues need to be addressed as soon as possible to prevent mold growth and amplification. Parents need to be informed of any environmental issues immediately. Parents have the right to know of any potential hazardous conditions in the school immediately.
ECOthink Group specializes in mold investigations throughout Connecticut and other states. Contact us today to discuss any environmental issues you may be having. firstname.lastname@example.org.