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Test results address reported mold issue at Gulf Elementary; Dust is more prevalent, air quality report reveals

By Staff | Mar 18, 2008

Responding to growing concerns among parents of children at Gulf Elementary who claimed that a exacerbating mold problem is causing health problems for students and faculty, last week the Lee County School District released an air quality report on the school.

According to Joe Donzelli, the district’s director of communications, “The report showed inside air quality levels at or above conditions outside the school.”

During an air quality test, assessors compare the fungal species inside the classroom with the level and species outside of the classroom. The report, carried out by the American Management Resources Corporation in Fort Myers, states that the accumulation of dust in the school may be more of a problem than growing mold.

One of the concerned Cape Coral parents is Vivian Theriault, who has two children who attend Gulf Elementary. Theriault said she wanted answers from the district.

“I wanted honest answers and I don’t think we have them,” she said. “Even if the problem is dust, dust is a breeding ground for mold.”

The report recommends that the school clean all surfaces to minimize dust accumulation, remove excess clutter from classrooms and have properly trained personnel do all of the work.

“The physical parameters measured in the classrooms were within acceptable limits, however several of the rooms were noticeably dusty and cluttered,” said the American Management Resources Corporation in its report sent to Joe Murphy, the district’s supervisor of indoor air quality.

The concern over mold began in January when Theriault began sending e-mails to the superintendent and members of the Lee County School Board, saying she was not satisfied with the school’s handling of the situation.

She explained that when students returned from the Christmas holiday break, mold was found in a bathroom ceiling tile that had been taken down and pushed to the side. Furthermore, she inspected the interior of the ceiling and saw white mold growths throughout the rafters.

Each of these issues occurred in Gulf Elementary’s IB building and, according to Theriault, resulted in some students coming down with respiratory illnesses. She said Caloosa Elementary, the same design as the IB building, had to be destroyed because of similar problems.

“I have had conversations with many parents whose children are students in the IB building at Gulf Elementary and are suffering respiratory issues ranging from asthma to chronic sinusitis, bloody noses and migraines,” she said in an e-mail to Gulf Elementary Principal Martin Mesch.

The quality air report was conducted at the school between Feb. 11 and March 4. Multiple locations were tested inside and outside of the school.

Besides dust found throughout some of the classrooms and in the entrance of each of the school’s mechanical rooms, the report states that six ceiling tiles had appeared to be stained from dripping water.

“Six ceiling tiles appeared water-stained but were dry to the touch,” the report states. “It is likely the leak responsible for the staining was repaired during the previous pipe reinsulation, however, further investigation is required to verify the source of the leak and the status of the repair.”

Mold, which in high concentrations has been found to cause certain health problems, can grow within any structure where moisture and oxygen are present. Leaky pipes and dripping water can be a catalyst for mold growth, although if a building is cleaned not all mold can be physically removed.

There have been accusations that the district had the school cleaned before the $4,505 air quality test was administered. According to Theriault, some of the faculty called her before the testing began and complained of a “strong chemical smell being pumped throughout the building.”

Donzelli said the district would not clean the school before the test because it would skew the results. If the school had been cleaned before the air quality test, he added, particles of dust and any traces of mold would be resuspended back into the air.

“It’s like if you dust at home and all of the dust gets back into the air,” he said. “It would take a long time to settle back down.”

According to the report, fungal counts inside the building appeared elevated but were lower than the counts outside because a classroom is a high traffic area for students.

“These results are typical in areas of high activity where excess accumulations of dust are consistently disturbed leading to particle resuspension,” the report states.

The American Management Resources Corporation said Gulf Elementary should be reaccessed after the recommended actions take place.

Theriault said she thinks it is suspicious that her daughter’s old classroom, where she allegedly became sick, had the lowest mold count out of the entire school. She added that the PTO should use some of its fund-raising dollars to pay for an independent assessment.