|Banks County Opinions...||
NOVEMBER 27, 2002
By: Angela Gary
What happened to Thanksgiving?
Students wont be praying for snow or ice this winter. Theyll be praying for something else entirely. Something that can close schools for a month or more.
Something so insidious it may already be in our schools and we dont know about it yet. Its not a smallpox outbreak or a freak tornado; its mold.
While most of the 100,000 species of mold are not hazardous, some types cause headaches, fatigue and serious respiratory problems. Serious enough to give Tennessees Bristol High School students a four-week hiatus when black mold was found in several classrooms.
In fact, across the state in Memphis, the death of one seventeen-year-old student on November 16 is currently being investigated by the Environmental Protection Agency while all 600 of his classmates are screened for similar problems.
The school board has also hired an environmental consultant.
According to an article by the Associated Press printed Sunday in Nashville, schools nationwide are finding allergy-inducing mold on walls, in carpets, in porous ceiling tiles and in ventilation systems.
The mold has forced schools to shut down for weeks while repairs costing upwards of one million dollars are made.
Students and staff in Florida filed suit last week against the school board claiming moldy buildings have caused long-term health problems.
Currently, there are no federal mandates on testing air quality in schools or even fixing problems that arise.
The EPAs website says it has no regulatory or enforcement authority regarding general indoor air quality in schools.
But it does provide a free kit and instructional video on testing and improving air quality before the repair bills total the million dollar mark.
Alarmingly, the EPA website reports most of the problems with indoor mold are in the southeast because the southern humidity and warmth provide ideal conditions for the mold to fester. But any amount of water can cause microbial growth.
Condensation on cold water pipes or small leaks that arent completely sealed can produce enough mold long term to cost schools millions.
Unfortunately mold problems usually go unnoticed until people become ill, when the mold is out of control.
The Associated Press article mentions no schools in Georgia with problems, but weve all seen the special reports on the Atlanta news of homes being abandoned because the mold is out of control and the entire family is gravely ill.
And no one at the EPA can say which kind of building is worse: an old, dilapidated school or the newer schools made with Gypsum wallboard and carpeted floors which retain moisture and which allow for little natural ventilation. It states only that schools should be well ventilated with relative humidity below 60 percent during warm weather.
And that air quality should be monitored and maintained.
The districts hit the hardest seem to be those who delay maintenance and patch leaks.
Last week, Tennessees state education department emailed school administrators directing them to the EPA website where they can download information on improving air quality and get the air quality kits and video.
Why dont we stay one step ahead of the Volunteers?
The agencys kit and video are free to schools that request the kit by calling 1-800-438-4318.
The webpage pertaining to schools air quality and mold is: www.epa.gov/iag/schools/scfaqs.html.
Rochelle Beckstine is a columnist for MainStreet Newspapers.
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