Mold Contamination in Schools
When mold contamination is discovered inside a school it can create a multitude of problems. Children are more vulnerable to environmental exposures, including mold contamination. Students spend up to several hours a day in school and grade school children can remain in the same classroom for extended periods of time. In the U.S. and most states, regulations regarding mold contamination including airborne limits, mold remediation and clearance procedures have not been enacted. Proper clean up of mold contamination requires site specific protocols and procedures to ensure the hazards are contained and adjacent non contaminated areas remain clean. This can be a costly proposition. Also, parents and teachers can become anxious about children potentially being exposed to mold contamination and poor air quality. Mold in schools needs to be addressed quickly, utilizing an experienced environmental consultant and remediation company, while keeping parents informed about the mold contamination issues and progress at each step of the project.
Schools in the News
Periodically schools find themselves in the news for having mold contamination. For example, several months ago hidden mold was discovered at Coleytown Middle School, in Westport Connecticut. The mold contamination occurred as a result of condensation from a unit ventilator collecting behind the walls of several classrooms over time. Visible mold growthon dry wall and ceiling tiles were first discovered in room 133. School officials stated that was “a design flaw in the unit ventilator in the wall and perhaps, possibly some substandard insulation.” This had allowed moisture from condensation over time to collect in that wall and create an ideal environment for continuous mold growth. Approximately 30 classrooms were identified with the defective cooling system design (designed about 20 years ago) that had allowed a buildup of condensation.
Cost of Mold Testing and Mold Remediation
The costs of addressing mold contamination in schools can vary based on the extent of the contamination. Often additional areas are discovered and additional cleaning may be necessary. One factor that contributes to the high costs of mold remediation is the fact that an air tight negatively pressurized containment needs to be established to ensure that the mold contamination does not spread to non contaminated areas including the heating ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems. The approach is very similar to an asbestos abatement project except minimal water is used to contain any dust. Air scrubbers with high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters are usually employed. Workers are required to be experienced and highly trained, utilizing respirators with HEPA filters and special disposable coverall suits. The waste material is usually not considered hazardous.
The laboratory analysis costs can be a significant factor in the cost of the remediation project. In the event mold testing is conducted, either in the initial mold investigation or clearance testing, the mold samples will need to be submitted to a certified microbiology laboratory to be analyzed by a microbiologist. The normal turn around time for obtaining the results of a spore trap sample is about 3 days from the time the lab receives the sample. If the results are needed immediately, you can request a 24 hour turn around time or even less, but this will cost sometimes more than three ties the normal rate. If a classroom needs to be reoccupied as soon as possible you may need to request a rush sample.
In 2014, it was discovered that Kings Highway Elementary School in Westport Connecticut had a $1.65 million cost overrun to remediate mold. According to the project review, $2,878,000 was approved for the project, but $4,527,969 was actually spent — a $1,649,969 difference. The project initially was intended to address mold and air quality at the school, but during the mold remediation, lead based paint was discovered. Lead remediation was added to the scope of work and another environmental remediation contractor was hired. A closer look at the $1.6 million increase found $714,233 was allocated towards environmental remediation and $683,132 for arbitration and legal fees. Environmental exposures including mold contamination can involve legal issues and attorney costs adding to the overall costs.
Health Effects of Mold Exposure
Molds are microscopic fungal organisms that are critical in biodegradation of plant and animal matter. Molds are ubiquitous in the environment and can be found in shady, damp areas, or places where leaves or other vegetation is decomposing. Indoor molds can thrive on almost any surface, provided there is moisture, oxygen, and organic material. Molds release tiny cells called spores into the surrounding air. People are exposed to molds every day at home, at work, at school, both indoors and out. Molds can trigger allergies in some individuals but are generally not harmful to healthy humans.
Inhalation is considered the primary way that people are exposed to mold. Mold spores and fragments can become airborne and get into the air we breathe. Symptoms associated with exposure to mold spores and toxins may include: Nasal and sinus congestion, eye irritation, blurred vision, sore throat, cough and chronic cough and skin rash. It has also been reported that after exposure to certain molds, individuals with chronic respiratory disease may experience difficulty breathing, and immunocompromised individuals may be at greater risk for lung infection. A NIEHS-funded study has revealed that mold exposure during the first year of life may increase the risk of childhood asthma.
In the case of Kings Highway Elementary School in Westport Connecticut, children were complaining of symptoms associated with allergies and asthma possibly triggered by airborne mold in the school.
Investing time and money into preventative maintenance and regular building wide inspections can circumvent significant problems associated with mold contamination. Periodic building walkthroughs and inspections of HVAC systems can identify and correct problems early.
In the event there is a flood or a leak, it should be addressed in immediately by installing air blowers and dehumidifiers. Utilizing cement board instead of sheetrock in areas where moisture intrusion may occur including basement, bathrooms, plumbing, water fixtures, etc. will prevent mold contamination.
It is wise to anticipate cost overruns based on the possibility of discovering additional mold contamination or environmental hazards such as lead based paint and asbestos.
Always hire a highly experienced environmental consultant preferably a certified industrial hygienists or certified mold professional and a mold remediation contractor. Keeping parents informed of the mold contamination project is very important. Withholding information or not communicating the progress of the mold contamination project will make the parents more anxious and distrustful. Maintain lines of communication from day 1.