SOUTHEASTERN NC (WECT) – Area public schools take measures to prevent mold and react to known cases, but they don't conduct routine air testing, according to information the districts provided Friday.
About 100 New Hanover County students were displaced earlier this week due to mold contamination in their mobile classrooms at Bellamy Elementary School. The students were moved to mobile units at Parsley Elementary. One of those classrooms was later found to have mold as well.
"Measurements of mold in air are not reliable or representative," according to the CDC. "If mold is seen or smelled, there is a potential health risk; therefore, no matter what type of mold is present, you should arrange for its removal."
The CDC adds that sampling for mold can be expensive, and standards for judging an acceptable or tolerable quantity of mold have not been established.
Area school districts provided the following responses when asked about their procedures for testing mold in mobile units:
District spokeswoman Valerie Newton said Bladen County Schools continually strives to maintain optimal indoor environmental quality in its buildings and classrooms.
"As part of their duties and responsibilities, Bladen County Schools custodial staff are instructed to visibly monitor as part of their regular workday, classrooms and buildings, both inside and outside, which they are assigned to for the possible presence of mold," she said. "If contamination is either visibly seen, suspected, or odor detected, the custodian immediately files a report with the Maintenance Department citing the possible presence of mold."
Newton went on to say, "The Maintenance Department physically investigates the property noted in the report and if mold growth is found they remediate the area. This is done by completely removing the mold growth from the affected material, or the mold-contaminated material is removed from the building."
"The Maintenance Department has received training and instruction from both the NC Department of Health and Human Services and the NC Department of Public Instruction Environmental Division on how to deal with mold problems and other indoor environmental quality issues."
District spokeswoman Jessica Swencki provided the following statement in regards to schools in Brunswick County:
"According to Executive Director of Operations Steve Miley, Brunswick County's operations division operates on a quarterly preventative maintenance schedule. Our system [employs] two full-time preventative maintenance technicians who are responsible for changing air filters in all schools, buildings, modulars every 90 days. The technicians are also trained to inspect HVAC units for malfunctions that could lead to an indoor air quality (IAQ) issue.
All operations employees (HVAC, electrical, plumbing, carpentry) are trained to constantly monitor their work areas for potential IAQ indicators (such as visible signs of mold) and according to Miley their division is proactive and expedient in response to any concerns. He stated the key to success is, "Identifying the concern early and responding quickly."
Specific to modular units, air conditioners remain running throughout the summer/weekends to keep humidity levels lows. (Note: Our system is constantly trying to reduce the need for modulars as they are not the ideal learning environment.)
Miley also shared our system works closely with the North Carolina Department of Labor to develop cleaning protocols, as individuals have varying degrees of sensitivity to different spores present in our environment."
The district also provides checklists to all employees to raise awareness about what they can do to help maintain indoor air quality.
According to Columbus County Schools district spokesman Kelly Jones, the school system uses the following procedure:
1) Upon suspicion of mold or visible evidence, the area is quarantined immediately.
2) Plant operations staff remedies the situation.
3) After corrective action, the area is reevaluated.
4) Area is then reopened to the public if inspection passes.
The New Hanover County Schools' indoor air quality procedures state that when a work order is generated by the school, the custodial administrator conducts an observation of the area of concern.
The observation includes indoor and outdoor readings for relative humidity, carbon dioxide levels and temperature.
Crews also conduct perform moisture mapping of the walls and inspect the HVAC system, including inside the duct work when possible.
After the inspection, a detailed report is generated that lists action steps for maintenance personnel and the school.
The district spokeswoman in Pender County, Joyce Keith, provided the following information:
"If mold is suspected, a sample of the indoor air is sent to a testing laboratory. At times a surface sample may be taken as well. If the lab results confirm a problem, mold remediation takes place and the unit is re-tested and cleared for use."
"It is our practice to maintain all modular classrooms in a 'ready to go' condition. Mobile classrooms are serviced at least once a month; HVAC equipment is checked and cleaned, and filters are replaced. If a complaint is received from a school, or if our technicians notice a problem, a work order is processed."
Anthony Martin, assistant superintendent, reports that the district has only one mobile classroom, the JROTC building at Whiteville High School.
He said when the building was installed, it was raised to encourage adequate ventilation under the unit.
"We also make sure that are HVAC system is in working order and is used properly," Martin said. "Because the JROTC program has year round activities that are coordinated from that facility, it helps with moisture control as the space is monitored and is conditioned to be comfortable."
"If we were to have suspicion that mold exists, we would evaluate the root cause and remediate as necessary."
"Since no EPA or other federal limits have been set for mold or mold spores, sampling cannot be used to check a building's compliance with federal mold standards, because there are none. If we did not see any mold, but we still suspected it, or wanted to check to see how our remediation went, we would seek out a testing professional that uses industry standards, such as the ones from the American Industrial Hygiene Association."
"We do not do regular testing because the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists do not recommend routine air testing for mold."
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