School mold worries parents
FAIRFIELD — The level of common mold spores found in Dwight School isn’t a reason for concern, according to school officials and experts, but that didn’t seem to calm fears at a parents’ meeting last week.
What are the symptoms of mold toxicity? Who decided painting over a spot that had mold was the right thing to do? Why wasn’t air quality testing done right away? Why was water seeping through the floors?
On their minds was the closure of Coleytown Middle School next door in Westport because of a mold problem that district has been dealing with since 2016.
Bruce McDonald, a local pediatrician and the school medical adviser, said allergic reactions to the mold vary according to the individual and their predisposition. He said all homes have some sort of mold growing in them, and the schools are no different.
Part of the problem, school officials said, was the hot weather and very high humidity at the start of the school year, combined with the lack of an air handling system that only exhausts air from the building, and does not bring in fresh air. To provide each elementary school with that type of HVAC system, Tom Cullen, director of operations said, would cost between $ 1 to $ 2 million per school.
Ray Cowan, an industrial hygienist with Woodward and Curran, said they first did visual inspections and then conducted moisture tests and air quality tests.
“We were looking for specific types of mold that might contribute to building issues,” he said. “We didn’t see any.”
They look specifically for stachybotrys, the strain of black mold that is often a cause for concern, Cowan said.
“We didn’t see that in any of the samples,” he said.
He said the cleaning of two small areas of visible mold followed EPA guidelines — wiping the areas down with a disinfectant, in this case a product called Vitrex.
“All molds would be considered to be allergenic,” Cowan said. “We wouldn’t expect there to be health concerns based on these levels.”
He said there is no specific level that is considered too high, and that is why testing compares the outdoor levels with the indoor levels and is conducted in different areas of the building.
At Dwight, air quality testing was done in rooms 1, 2, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10, 15, 17, 19, and 20, along with the library/ media center, and both adult and children’s bathrooms. Any teacher who wanted their classroom assessed was added to the list, school officials said.
In addition to testing and cleaning, Superintendent of Schools Toni Jones said they went and looked at absenteeism for students and teachers and compared that data to other schools. Dwight, Jones said, didn’t have the highest nor the lowest absenteeism, but rather was pretty much in the middle. The numbers of students with asthma, Jones said, was fewer than the state average.
Water wasn’t seeping up through the floors of the school, Jones said. The wet floors weren’t limited to Dwight School, and again were a result of heat and humidity, she said, and they are looking at ways to better handle the issue should it happen again.