Testing doesn’t show high levels of mold at Dwight School
FAIRFIELD — The level of common mold spores found in Dwight School aren’t a reason for concern according to school officials and experts, but that didn’t seem to calm fears at a parents’ meeting Monday.
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 varies 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 less 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.
There were no answers for the odor that is found in room 10 at Dwight, officials conceded. Students have been moved out of the room and it is not being used.
“It’s not a familiar odor,” Jones said, and they are methodically going through a checklist in an attempt to find and eliminate the source.
“It doesn’t smell like a moldy basement, it doesn’t smell like a dead rat,” she said.
Could that noxious odor be harmful to their children, parents wanted to know. McDonald said he did not believe so. As for an allergic response to mold, McDonald said it is not so much a matter of the duration of exposure, but rather the concentration of mold spores.
“If a child has asthma and allergies to the mold, he will develop a reaction,” McDonald said.
That allergic reaction could include a runny nose, itchy eyes, a headache, and in some cases, mild nausea, the doctor said.
Some of the classrooms have air conditioning units, and parents wanted to know how to get a unit in their child’s classroom.
“Medical need determines air conditioning,” Jones said, requiring a doctor’s note. “There’s no easy solution for 1960s, 1950s buildings that have no air conditioning.”
She said it is an issue that needs to be discussed by the entire community because new air handling systems that would bring in fresh air are “an expensive solution.”