School mold wor­ries par­ents

Connecticut Post (Sunday) - - News - By Genevieve Reilly

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.

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